Grant funding from the IBMA Foundation was awarded to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum (BCMM) and was used to support additional costs of the I’ve Endured: Women in Old-Time Music exhibit production, including design and fabrication costs. The special exhibit has been on display in the BCMM’s special exhibit gallery since the opening reception on March 23 and will be available through December 31, 2023, before traveling to other venues in 2024-25. The exhibit explores how early women musicians helped to set the foundations for old-time, bluegrass, and related musical styles; how gender roles and stereotypes have influenced women’s experiences as musicians; the ways women have impacted the genre; and how contemporary old-time women musicians are carrying on traditions and innovating within the old-time world. Through text panels, images, objects, and A/V elements, the important histories and stories of women’s contributions to old-time music have been presented in an engaging, educational, and inspiring way. Due to rising costs in labor and materials, the amount needed to cover the production of freestanding panels with A/V capability, wall panels, and other exhibit elements, has resulted in a larger cost than the original estimate of $10,000. The actual cost of this was just over $12,000, so the additional $2,000 from the IBMA Foundation enabled us to expand our fabrication budget and complete the exhibit within our already-extended time frame.
I’ve Endured: Women in Old-Time Music is a project over two years in the making. During the extensive content development process, the content development team interviewed 18 contemporary women working or participating in old-time music, including legendary musician Alice Gerrard, NEA Heritage Award recipient and ballad singer Sheila Kay Adams, Grammy-winning musician Cathy Fink, and many more. The exhibit features standing panels, wall panels, two A/V elements with clips from the recorded interviews, images of women both past and present, and a variety of objects and instruments on loan. Over 100 women are featured in the exhibit. With so many individuals to highlight in this story and with limited room on the exhibits physical panels, a companion website was created at WomeninOldTimeMusic.com, and it was integrated into the Birthplace of Country Music website. This digital presence serves as a space for expanded content related to the exhibit, which enables the museum to extend the exhibit’s content and reach beyond its physical presence in the Special Exhibits Gallery. The website and its content will live beyond the exhibit, serving as an asset for BCMM in the future and also as a hub for extensive resources that can be used by hosting venues while the exhibit travels.
The exhibit opened to positive media coverage that has been ongoing throughout 2023, providing BCMM with a way to bring different audiences through the museum’s doors and offer interesting public programs connected to the exhibit’s content. Since March 23, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum has hosted more than 16,600 visitors, including admission to the special exhibit gallery. The reception for the opening exhibit welcomed 115 individuals, making it the largest reception for any special exhibit the museum has ever hosted. The exhibit has been featured in multiple publications including USA Today, The Tennessean, Okra Magazine, and a multi-page feature in No Depression. In addition to press coverage, content team members have been invited to speak about the exhibit at various conferences and events throughout the year, including a presentation at the 2023 International Country Music Conference, the 2023 Richmond Folk Festival with Virginia Humanities, a presentation at Longwood University for a women’s studies class, a feature on the podcast With Good Reason through Virginia Folklife, and other local and regional coverage.
Programs surrounding the exhibit have been implemented, many school and adult tour groups have been welcomed, and the exhibit has been promoted through scholarly activities. We’ve delivered at least one free public program surrounding the exhibit per month since March, 2023, including a film screen of Songcatcher; a “music as work” discussion panel featuring Carla Gover, Emily Spencer, Ella Patrick, and Dena Jennings; multiple monthly speaker sessions including author Holly Gleason on women in country music; a Hazel Dickens tribute performance with Karen Collins; a film screening of I’ve Endured: The Music and Legacy of Ola Belle Reed; a film screening of Reel ‘Em Boys, Reel ‘Em; community square dances with caller and filmmaker Becky Hill; and a speaker session with ballad singer Donna Ray Norton on women in murder ballads. Upcoming programs including an educational school performance with Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer; a film screening of All Wigged Out; Hoot and Holler Storytelling; the Blue Ridge Opry program featuring a lineup of female old-time musicians; and a traditional songwriting workshop with Alice Gerrard. Many of these programs have been recorded and are available online at the BCM website.
The work done on creating the special exhibit and offering its related public programming is extremely important because it serves to enhance and extend knowledge and understanding of this important musical heritage, while also helping audiences to explore and appreciate the deeper impact and influence of female musicians, past and present. A goal of the exhibit was to create experiences that present an engaging and meaningful view into women’s history, evidenced by positive feedback from visitors and patrons. This mission has been accomplished.
The exhibit has been funded in part by multiple grants and support from Virginia Humanities, the Massengill-DeFriece Foundation, the IBMA Foundation, Virginia Tourism Corporation, the East Tennessee Arts Fund, and several local women-led sponsors. We again thank the IBMA Foundation for supporting this important exhibit through grant funding, and we look forward to future collaborations between our organization and the IBMA Foundation.
-Toni Doman-Vandyke, Grants Coordinator and Curatorial Specialist
Birthplace of Country Music, Inc.
Please enjoy a virtual video tour of the exhibit at this link.
RETURN to the December 2023 issue of The Cornerstone.