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VOL. 126 | NO. 179 | Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Changes on Tap at NCRM

By Bill Dries

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There was a demonstration earlier this week at the National Civil Rights Museum. The performance by the New Ballet Ensemble in the courtyard was the latest indication of change in the 20-year-old institution built on the site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Memphis group was one of 16 from around the world to feature performances and works on the concept of interdependence – a different kind of demonstration than the ones chronicled in the museum.

But 20 years after its opening, the museum is changing with construction completed on one phase of a renovation and plans for a much larger yearlong renovation taking shape.

Phase one was archival and collection space on the ground floor behind the façade of the “rooms” on the first floor of the courtyard.

For the rest of this year, the museum will be immersed in planning for the larger renovation and the specifics of work that will reshape the exterior and interior.

“Some time next year we’re closing down the interior of the museum so we can begin to work on this side of it,” said NCRM executive director Beverly Robertson. “We’re not going to close the King room off and we’re going to keep the building across the street open,” Robertson said, referring to the second-floor exhibit of the motel room King stayed in the night before his death and the annex across Mulberry Street that deals with the assassination itself.

The King room is the emotional climax of the museum experience for many visitors. The annex includes the bathroom window view of the assassin.

Robertson estimates the renovation should be completed in late 2013 or early 2014. The renovation began as a realization that the museum’s early 1990s era technology needs to be updated to present the history of the civil rights movement in a way that is more relatable to younger patrons.

The technology is also proving more difficult to repair and replace over time.

The renovation effort has raised about $20 million, according to Robertson. And a larger public capital campaign with a larger dollar goal will be announced Nov. 20 at the museum’s annual Freedom Awards at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts.

The museum’s foundation is marking the museum’s 20th year with an expanded Freedom Awards ceremony that will include more than a dozen award recipients.

Museum officials announced Tuesday, Sept. 13, that they have added actor Hill Harper and Grammy nominated Memphis musician Kirk Whalum to the list of honorees.

“Many people don’t understand that there has been so much activity and so much progress in a number of categories. We try to identify those categories this year where there has been much progress,” Robertson said. “In many ways what we stand to do here at the museum is continue the education that we started when we first opened and build upon that success and even expand it as we move in the future. We thought the 20th year was the perfect time to do that.”

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