By SCOTT SUTTELL September 01, 2019 04:00 AM

It's an increasingly digital world, but an exhibition at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that relies on an analog pleasure — picking up and playing real musical instruments with friends, family members or strangers — is drawing the strongest feedback from visitors since the institution began using a metric called "Net Promoter Score" in 2014.

The exhibition is the Interactive Garage, a $2 million attraction that takes up the museum's entire second floor and is a centerpiece project of the Rock Hall museum's multiyear, multimillion-dollar transformation plan that includes the new Hall of Fame Floor and Power of Rock Experience in the Connor Theater, both on the third floor.

The Interactive Garage, which opened July 1, includes keyboards, mixing boards, guitars, drums, studio space and a lounge for playing acoustic instruments at dedicated practice stations. As the Rock Hall puts it on its website, "The Garage is where it's your turn to play."

Greg Harris, president and CEO of the Rock Hall, said in an interview on Aug. 16 that an estimated 50,000 people already had visited the exhibition, including some famous figures from the world of sports — Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor and L.A. Angels outfielder Mike Trout — and, of course, music, where members of Run DMC, the E Street Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Buffalo Springfield have dropped in. Rock Hall research shows that about a third of visitors to the exhibition so far are active musicians, Harris said.

But you don't have to be famous, or any type of pro, to noodle around in the Interactive Garage. There are video tutorials to guide visitors new to the instruments, and Harris noted that the exhibit is staffed by "teaching educators" from institutions including Cleveland State and Kent State universities, and Cuyahoga Community College. Guests pick up guitars most frequently — the "Guitar Hero" legacy is strong — with drums in the No. 2 position, Harris said.

In building out the Interactive Garage, he explained, Rock Hall officials were "inspired by digital spaces" but "wanted to remain authentic in giving people a meaningful experience." The instruments in the exhibition are real, "which appeals to people who are professionals and adds meaning to people who are new" to using them, Harris said.

The Rock Hall has been embracing a "bigger culture of data and innovation," Harris said. To that end, it's using digital data collection to measure the Net Promoter Score of exhibitions, including the Interactive Garage.

Harris said that in its first six weeks, feedback provided by visitors showed that the Interactive Garage had a Net Promoter Score of 68, which is the best figure for an exhibition in the five years that the Rock Hall has been using NPS. (A score of 100 would mean that every customer is a "promoter," helping to tell others about a good experience.)

"We're very proud of that (NPS score) in the first month," Harris said.

Among other data points gathered about the exhibition to date, according to Harris:



  • 97% of the guests indicated it met or exceeded their expectations.
  • 87% of visitors to the Interactive Garage interact with teaching educators.
  • 53% say they're inspired to start playing, or return to playing, an instrument.
  • Users are fairly evenly distributed across the age spectrum, but this is not just for boomers: The most-represented age of guests is 18.

One of the pleasures of the Interactive Garage experience to date, Harris said, has been its ability to bring people together.

"People who don't know each other are meeting (at the exhibition) and start playing together," he noted. "It becomes this moment of sharing an experience, and that can be really powerful."

The Interactive Garage's debut came as the Rock Hall has been on a roll, drawing a record 579,000 visitors last year, topping its previous high mark of 560,000, set in 2017. The Rock Hall also announced that, based on 2017 data, it delivers an estimated $199 million of economic impact to Northeast Ohio annually. It also has activated its plaza this summer with more live programming, including a stop of the Vans Warped Tour. (There's an exhibition within the Rock Hall now called "Forever Warped: 25 Years of Vans Warped Tour.")

Harris said the Interactive Garage, like other parts of the museum, likely will evolve as the Rock Hall continues to collect data and talks with guests about their experience.

He said he sees the exhibition as another way to use rock music as a source of "education and inspiration."

The power of combining live music and education at the Rock Hall was underscored last month when the Haslam 3 Foundation, funded by Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, made a $2.5 million donation to the institution to support its education-related programming. (The foundation also gave $1 million each to the Cleveland Orchestra and Playhouse Square.)

The Rock Hall said that as a result of the gift, it has established the Haslam Scholars Program in recognition of the Haslams' "generous commitment to the Rock Hall, their ongoing support for education and unwavering commitment to students." The program provides free admission and expert classroom instruction to Cleveland Metropolitan School District students and Title 1 schools statewide.

Dee Haslam, who's also a Rock Hall board member, said the scholars program is designed to "help foster a deeper appreciation and understanding of music for students." She said it was important to the Haslam family that it undertake philanthropy aimed at "eliminating barriers and providing equal access" to educational programming within the Rock Hall.

Those programs are "on-site, interdisciplinary classes on the history of rock and roll that meet academic content standards," according to the Rock Hall. The classes "draw on the power of rock to teach students about fine arts, language arts, social studies, mathematics, science and technology," and reach more than 300,000 students per year.

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