Opinion: Reinventing The Southern Gospel Music Association’s Museum

by | Oct 8, 2020 | Commentary & Observations

We broke the news here at MusicScribe last Friday that the Southern Gospel Music Association’s Hall of Fame and Museum is leaving Dollywood. Now that the official press release is out, what action would you like to see the SGMA take next? Are you willing to help?

Silver Dollar City anticipates opening in May

One obvious idea is for the SGMA to partner with another theme park. After Dollywood, Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri promotes Southern Gospel music more than any theme park. Of course, the biggest complaint about the SGMA museum being located inside Dollywood has been that people who have no desire to go to Dollywood have to buy a Dollywood ticket before they can visit the museum. That being said, there were many attempts to build a museum during the 1980s and 1990s that failed. Dollywood made it happen. There’s just no guarantee that enough fans would visit a free-standing museum often enough to support the cost of keeping it open. If Silver Dollar City is willing to do the same sort of deal, it’s probably the safest move to ensure the future of the museum.

Noah's Ark vs. the Ark Encounter: What's the Difference? | Ark Encounter

Silver Dollar City is the only traditional theme park that seems compatible, but if they don’t bite, there are a few tourist attractions aimed directly at Christians that might make a good home for the SGMA’s museum. Two locations that come to mind are the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky which draws almost 1 million visitors per year and the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina reportedly draws over 200,000 annually (but mostly during the last two months of the year).

Foundation Performing Arts & Conference Center

I’d most like to see the SGMA take a different route entirely and partner with a functioning theater. The museum’s gift shop, exhibits, plaques for HOF inductees, and bricks personalized by $100 donors over the years could be incorporated into a theater’s lobby. Fans could check everything out and hopefully buy items in the gift shop while waiting for the doors to open or during an intermission.

I raise this idea because I’ve already seen something similar at Reynolds Coliseum on the campus of NC State University. That lobby (which extends to two levels) features numerous exhibits where fans can relive the history of NC State athletics.

LHC Structural Engineers :: Reynolds Coliseum Renovation & Walk of Fame,  NCSU
Reynolds Coliseum lobby
(Raleigh, North Carolina)

The shows at this hypothetical theater would need to be family-friendly, obviously, but not exclusively Southern Gospel. The theater’s lobby could also be open to the general public on days when no concerts are scheduled. The SGMA could charge a nominal admission so they could kick rent back to the theater’s owners and so they wouldn’t be depending strictly on gift shop sales to survive.

Another idea I saw proposed was combining the museum with the new SGMA Research Library that is currently being set up in Hendersonville, Tennessee. This doesn’t seem practical. There’s already a looming question as to whether the museum itself could generate enough funds to function, and a research library doesn’t seem like a revenue-generating venture. I don’t think the house donated by Daywind for the research library is large enough to add the museum anyway.

If a permanent home for the SGMA’s museum can’t be found, the last resort is probably making it a traveling museum with exhibits at major concert events. I certainly hope it doesn’t come to that, but it would be better than nothing.

One thing you can do is join the SGMA. Click HERE for details on how to do that. If you’re well set financially, consider that lifetime membership or just make an extra donation.

Feel free to leave a comment below with your own ideas for the future of the SGMA’s Hall of Fame and Museum.

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David Bruce Murray

David Bruce Murray

David Bruce Murray is a church music director in Ellenboro, NC. He is the author of Murray's Encyclopedia Of Southern Gospel Music and the owner of both SGHistory.com and MusicScribe.com.

1 Comment

  1. Joshua

    I think Dollywood has been the perfect place for the Museum. 21 years ago on my honeymoon, my wife and I visited and then again 20 years later, last October. You could see that a lack of funds has hurt this so precious place.
    I love history, especially Gospel music history. I pray they find a good home.


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