Saturday, 15 February 2014

Barry and Judy Skinner's Hector Country Music Heritage Museum on New Zealand's South Island

What is it about New Zealand’s west coast that makes it such a hub of DIY music museums? Yesterday I made a visit to the Hector Country Music Heritage Museum in the Buller district of the South Island. Another privately owned and operated museum, this one is run by musician and radio DJ Barry Skinner with the support of his wife Judy.

Having only a few days earlier been at the Taranaki Country Music Hall of Fame on the North Island, it was difficult not to make comparisons of how different these two entities are. While Barry also has a large collection of autographed photos of country music artists on display (which he has been collecting for some 30 years), this is an enterprise that goes beyond the remit of a hall of fame. 

The word ‘heritage’ in the museum’s title is not misplaced. The music collection here is significant; with well over 10,000 country music recordings Barry’s license with APRA sees him producing collections of rare recordings on CD that can be purchased when visiting the museum.

Barry, who was inducted into New Zealand’s hands of fame in 2011, spent time talking me through his cataloguing processes and showed me the master copies of the CDs he has been producing, before taking me on a guided tour of the museum. As with the Taranaki Country Music Hall of Fame and KD’s Elvis Presley Museum, space here is at a premium. However, Barry has carefully thought through how to maximise the small space and makes his own display cabinets, all of which have wheels so they can be moved to the side for functions.

Behind glass can be found a collection of sheet music, instruments, memorabilia and other country music related artefacts. New Zealand artists appear in one section of the museum, with the rest of the space representing artists from around the world, primarily Australia and the USA. Barry is currently curating a display on the New Zealand country band The Tumbleweeds. According to Barry, the New Zealand section had Shania Twain’s full attention when she visited the museum some years ago.

Sage Forest from Radio New Zealand’s ‘Southern Story’ programme did an interview with Barry at the museum back in August 2011. It’s worth listening to here.

Although the Hector Country Music Heritage Museum, Taranaki Country Music Hall of Fame and KD’s Elvis Presley Museum are all privately owned, none of them are money making ventures and all face financial challenges similar to the DIY museums and archives I have visited elsewhere in the world. Being on the West Coast, these museums are not located in areas with a high volume of tourist traffic and so, while entry fees and donations assist in the running of these places of popular music heritage, the personal finances of the museum owners plays a large part in their ongoing operation. Both in terms of location and finances these places seem to face similar challenges to those identified by the founder of the Museum RockArt in the Netherlands, a privately owned museum I visited for the Popular Music and Cultural Memory project back in 2011. But like Museum RockArt, they are all run with love and passion --- a common characteristic in all of the DIY places of music heritage I have visited for this research.