MoPOP

MoPOP MoPOP
 
Creativity is a nebulous, all-encompassing term that’s sometimes hard to define. And yet, from Paul’s perspective, it’s something that is fundamentally essential to who we are as human beings. Sometimes he saw creativity in unexpected places, like lines of assembly computer code. Other times it was a science fiction movie at the Cinerama. And frequently he saw it in music — specifically rock ‘n’ roll from musicians like his hero, Jimi Hendrix. But regardless of where he found creative inspiration, he knew he wanted to build a unique museum that would both celebrate all creative forms while also inspiring others in a very hands-on way to express themselves. After all, that was something his mother taught him and his sister, Jody, to do at a very young age — to always explore new things. 
And so, in 1996, the idea of founding a nonprofit institution centered on music exploration began to take shape when Paul and Jody hired renowned architect Frank O. Gehry to design what would eventually open its doors as Experience Music Project (EMP). Gehry himself was a music fan, but was more into classical music than rock, so he bought several electric guitars, took them back to his workspace and cut them into pieces to find inspiration. The result was a one-of-a-kind, flowing, “curvilinear” structure punctuated by the same reds and blues and other glimmering colors he found in the guitar pieces littering his studio.  
Scale model of the exterior of the Experience Music Project (EMP) which changed its name to the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) as it expanded to include exhibits from across pop culture including film, television, games, sports, art, and fashion.
Paul and Jody at the opening of EMP in 2000.
 
Scale model of the exterior of the Experience Music Project (EMP) which changed its name to the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) as it expanded to include exhibits from across pop culture including film, television, games, sports, art, and fashion.
Paul and Jody at the opening of EMP in 2000.
“If museum visitors walk out the door feeling inspired to explore their own creativity — whether that be picking up a new instrument, taking a crack at writing the great American novel, or even learning how to play football — then we will have accomplished that goal. ”
— Paul G. Allen
The 140,000 square foot EMP opened its doors in June of 2000 right below the Space Needle. In the years since, it has evolved from being solely a music-focused venue (though that’s still a big part of the experience) to an organization that celebrates all forms of creative expression as the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP). As Paul said during the building’s groundbreaking, “If museum visitors walk out the door feeling inspired to explore their own creativity — whether that be picking up a new instrument, taking a crack at writing the great American novel, or even learning how to play football — then we will have accomplished that goal.” 

Paul and Jody were the catalysts behind the nonprofit museum, and as the institution matured over the years, it cemented itself as an integral part of the PNW arts and culture community. Now more than 20 years later, MoPOP has reached millions of people through more than 100 exhibitions, engaging programs and events, and compelling educational resources that support tens of thousands of youth annually. As a community-supported institution, MoPOP continues to work with their donors, members, and volunteers to preserve pop culture history for generations to come so that future creators will be inspired to innovate with their own artistic expression.  
 
 
 
Examples of the thousands of unique artifacts on display carefully curated by the museum staff include everything from the guitar Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock, to foam rubber props and posters from renowned horror and science fiction films, to the iconic costumes from some of the most beloved films of our time. Exhibitions include interactives for guests to go deeper with the content, as well as oral history interviews from writers, musicians, producers, and video game designers. Perhaps the most notable feature of the museum is an 800-guest, multipurpose venue called Sky Church, which pays homage to Jimi Hendrix and features a Barco C7 black package LED screen, erected as one of the largest LED screens in the world. 
 
In more recent years, the museum has extended its reach by travelling some of its exhibitions to other organizations around the country. Examples include a celebration of Minecraft, the popular video game phenomenon, and Body of Work: Tattoo Culture which explores the diverse and inclusive expressions of the tattoo community, including original, commissioned works by notable tattoo artists.

MoPOP’s impact reaches well beyond what might be typically expected from a museum by partnering with the educational community in unique ways. MoPOP’s livestream workshops bring museum content directly into school classrooms, community spaces, and home educational environments. From exploring how science fiction can help fight climate change to investigating the art and science of the museum itself, these interactive workshops serve students in grades K-12, and adults as well. To better address students’ social-emotional learning, virtual student clubs use the power of games, graphic novels, and costume design to connect students to others who share their interests. 

The museum provides many opportunities for older students as well. Teens are encouraged to serve on the Youth Advisory Board, and to participate in MoPOP's premier 21-and-under music showcase, Sound Off! These youth programs give participants the chance to learn from industry experts, explore career paths, gain performance experience, and develop their own creative voices. MoPOP’s Teacher Professional Development program features workshops, tours, curriculum development, and networking opportunities. These experiences allow teachers to engage with pop culture — and each other — while also providing useful teaching tools that are interactive, fun, and equitable for all learners.  
 
“This means everything to me. I might be the only recipient of this award to have busked and asked for money outside the building.”
— Seattle Musician Brandi Carlile, 2019 Founders Award Recipient
Honoring musical icons, the annual MoPOP Founders Award celebrates artists whose noteworthy contributions to music continue to nurture the next generation of creators. As the museum’s signature benefit gala, proceeds raised from the event support their youth education programs, community engagement initiatives, and cutting-edge exhibitions. While recognizing the year’s accomplishments, the event has honored iconic musicians like Carlos Santana, Ann and Nancy Wilson, John Fogerty, Alice in Chains, and Brandi Carlile, with special performances from notables like Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, the Indigo Girls, Dave Matthews, Ruby Amanfu, Tanya Tucker, and more. 
In the more than two decades since Paul and Jody’s vision first became a reality when the museum opened its doors, the impact it has had on the community can be seen in the feedback it regularly receives. For example, Laura, a Seattle-area high school teacher said, “MoPOP is the only museum in Seattle that actually reaches out to teachers with a huge variety of ways to connect, grow our teaching practice, and get students involved.” And Caroline, a student at Overlake School said “[MoPOP is] fantastic! I like how there was a mix of small and large group work… both drawing and movement, and the opportunity to present. Different students feel confident in different areas, so this allowed for everyone to have at least a portion of the program fit their learning style and interests.” 
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