PHXFW Rewinds: At MIM, Music Connects the World

(3/8/11) The world is a vast place filled with over 6.5 billion people of different nationalities, cultures and languages. With so many differences spanning the globe, music serves as a connection among diverse individuals and groups. At the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in North Phoenix, visitors can see, hear and experience the global commonality of music.

Fashion also links people to other cultures and serves as a major element of musical performance. In addition to music, MIM houses a wide variety of costumes in its exhibits. The costumes often reflect attire worn by musicians who play the instruments in the same exhibit. They are also worn by dancers who perform with the music and individuals who partake in diverse global rituals such as weddings, funerals, holidays, coming of age events and religious festivals.

“There are other museums of musical instruments across the globe, but MIM is unique in that it brings together into one place an expansive collection of instruments from every country,” Alan di Perna, MIM Media Relations Manager, explains. “The MIM experience also brings these instruments to life through superlative audio/video technology that enables visitors to see and hear these instruments in their original cultural settings like no other museum in the world.”

Robert J. Ulrich, former CEO and chairman emeritus of Target Corporation, thought of creating MIM in Phoenix after visiting the MIM in Brussels, Belgium in 2005. The museum visit inspired Ulrich to build a similar one in Phoenix that represented instruments and music from each country in the world. Because Phoenix is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States and has such a culturally diverse population, Ulrich chose the city as the location for MIM. Ulrich also considered that throughout the year, Phoenix’s resorts attract many people including international travelers who look for sites such as MIM. After four years of construction, MIM opened to the public on April 24, 2010.

To acquire over 10,000 instruments and artifacts from over 200 countries, MIM experts either purchased items from other collectors and collections, gathered them from the specific geographic and cultural regions where they were played, or sometimes traveled to remote and isolated areas to physically collect the materials. Experts chose instruments and artifacts to build the collections based on their quality of construction, their makers’ reputation, their connection to notable performers or their distinctive location of origin.

“Some of the instruments in our collection were, until recently, still being played in their places of origin,” di Perna said, “and donated to MIM by the very instrument makers and players themselves.”

Besides countries across the globe, MIM also features instruments, costumes, concert footage and photographs associated with world famous musicians and music innovators. Some pieces include one of the huge and decorative drums played during the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics’ opening ceremony, the Steinway piano on which John Lennon composed “Imagine,” a custom Yamaha guitar with Buddhist motifs that Carlos Santana played, Eric Clapton’s “Brownie” Fender Stratocaster guitar, Grammy-nominated Native American artist R. Carlos Nakai’s flutes, and the first Steinway piano which was built in the kitchen of Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg’s home in Seesen, Germany in 1835.

Along with collecting the instruments and other components of exhibits, much thought went into the layout of MIM. Made of neutral shades of Indian sandstone with horizontal stroke marks, the exterior of the MIM complements the encompassing landscape.

Once inside the building , a winding walkway known as “El Río” guides guests throughout the museum. On the first floor, visitors can explore the Orientation Gallery where they first see the wide range and similarities of international instruments, the Experience Gallery where they can engage in hands-on activity with various instruments, the Artist Gallery which highlight instruments and miscellaneous items related to world renowned musicians and innovators, the Mechanical Music Gallery, the Target Gallery which features temporary and touring exhibits, the Guest Service area, the Museum Store, the MIM Café and Coffee Shop and a Conservation Lab.

MIM’s second floor displays galleries featuring instruments and artifacts from countries throughout Africa and the Middle East, Asia and Oceania, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the United States and Canada. With such a diverse variety of displays, MIM offers exhibits for all ages to enjoy.

“Other musical instrument museums primarily focus on Western instruments, with much less attention paid to those from other areas of the world,” di Perna said. “At MIM, we give equal representation to all the other areas too.”

MIM’s two-story, 299-seat Music Theater allows guests to watch and listen to world renowned and new artists’ performances that cover musical genres throughout the world. Guests can further experience global music by watching films and attending workshops.

“With the theater’s dazzling architecture, spacious seating and state-of-the-art acoustics, this spectacular venue provides visitors with an intimate and fun concert-going experience that exceeds all expectations,” di Perna said.    

“There’s a whole wide world of music to discover at MIM,” di Perna concludes. “Guests enjoy unparalleled, state-of-the-art audio and video to see and hear the instruments being played in their cultures of origin as they approach each exhibit. The result is a fun, fascinating, immersive experience for young and old alike. It seems a perfect fit to MIM that many of Phoenix Fashion Week’s events are held at the museum, as the airy, light-filled surroundings are the perfect environment for cutting-edge displays of style.

MIM is open every day: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Thursday and Friday from 9:00 a.m.- 9:00 p.m., and Sunday from 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. For more information on MIM, visit

Article by Erin Kennedy

The Resource for “All Things Fashionable.”

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