In 1991, the International Bluegrass Music Museum (IBMM) was incorporated as a non-profit educational/ historical organization. In its first years, it was a small operation focused on the collection and preservation of bluegrass music’s history, recordings, and artifacts. Most museum visitors were directly related to the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) and its annual mega-event, Fan Fest. Both IBMA and Fan Fest were located in Owensboro, Kentucky, for many years.
As part of IBMM’s “Preview ‘92” campaign to encourage the bluegrass community to share in the vision of opening a permanent museum by contributing financially, a small exhibit was circulated around the country.
In 1994, Ricky Skaggs was Campaign Chairman of the museum’s “Building on a Legacy” fundraising campaign. Ralph Stanley (hyperlink to hall of honor text), IBMA Hall of Honor member, and supporter of the museum, was Honorary Chairman. Both men served as goodwill ambassadors for the museum. Pete Kuykendall (link to hall of honor text), publisher of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine, chaired the bluegrass music community segment of the campaign. The campaign was successful, bringing in more than $850,000, which was used to outfit the museum building for a formal, year round opening in May 1995.
In 1998, the City of Owensboro leased 33,000 square feet of prime space in the RiverPark Center complex to the museum. In 1999, the State of Kentucky awarded IBMM a $3 million renovation grant. The museum shut down its operations for three years, reopening in mid-2002 in its current facility.
A Board of Trustees governs the museum and a small, efficient staff is responsible for the day-to-day operations. IBMM’s mission remains to develop and maintain an environment in which people of all ages can discover the richness of bluegrass music through an exciting and educational experience.
Exhibit space now occupies the first and second levels. The number of artifacts is expanding, with the purchase of Bill Vernon’s (link to Hall of Honor text) collection, as well as other important acquisitions.
The museum is a truly living, breathing entity with an emphasis on programs, including the Kentucky AllStars, the museum’s Video Oral History Project (VOHP), and Bluegrass in the Schools (BITS). Each of these programs has succeeded in breaking out of the historic, brick walls of the museum, especially the BITS program, which has moved into the elementary schools of Daviess County, putting bluegrass instruments into the hands of students and teachers.
The museum has opened its doors, inviting children and adults into its halls, for music lessons through its Kentucky AllStars program, and finally, through the VOHP, the museum has ventured into the homes of bluegrass music’s first generation artists, filming their stories and their songs in an important effort to capture the colorful history of this uniquely American genre. These signature programs continue to educate and expand the fan base of bluegrass music, solidifying the genre for future generations.
Beginning in 2006, the museum offered its first Monroe-Style Mandolin Camps. The first camp filled up within days of the announcement. The waiting list for the first camp quickly evolved into a second camp, with campers hailing from 25 states, Canada, England and Australia. Campers and faculty agreed with IBMM that these camps are a vital force in preserving the musical legacy of the “Father of Bluegrass,” Bill Monroe [link to hall of honor text].
The museum also hosts a local jam on Thursday evenings for local and visiting musicians from November through May, and features a live bluegrass band each Friday evening in the RiverPark Center’s courtyard from May through September. Capping all this is the museum’s signature festival: River of Music Party (ROMP), which is held in Owensboro, Kentucky each June. ROMP is a four-day festival with concerts, including a special Legends of Bluegrass show, films and new exhibits at the museum; guided tours; workshops; dancing and arts and crafts.
The museum’s beautiful gift shop has a great variety of quality attire, featuring the International Bluegrass Music Museum logo, as well as ROMP festival attire. You will find everything from mandolin strings and hard to find bluegrass CDs to ball caps and handsome, high quality travel mugs. Order online, though you are always invited to make the trip to Owensboro and see the museum and its gift shop for yourself!