By Randy Lewis
Los Angeles Times
Among the first orders of business for Greg Harris on Monday on the announcement of his new post as president and chief executive at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum was to throw on a few of his favorite records during breakfast at home.
“I was digging into some stuff I hadn’t heard in a while,” Harris, 47, said from the museum in Cleveland. “The first thing I wanted to hear was something off Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.,’ so I put on ‘Growin’ Up.’ Then we went to some Bob Dylan, some Otis Redding, and then the Clash. So there was a little bit of a progression going on.”
Progression is what’s happening at the museum with Harris’ appointment to succeed Terry Stewart, the institution’s president and CEO since 1999. In May, Stewart announced that he would retire from that post at the end of this year.
Continued progress is what Harris is looking forward to when he officially takes the reins at the Rock Hall on Jan. 1.
“This isn’t a turnaround project,” he said. “The museum’s on solid ground. We have a firm base on which to build and advance it. We want to look at how can we take what we have, engage more people, deliver programming and content to those outside of our walls, how to continue building our wonderful museum collections and library collections and how to expand the reach of our educational programs. Overall, we want to take what’s a wonderful regional treasure and make it a little more national without giving up the great regional base.”
One goal will be boosting attendance at the Cleveland facility itself, which sees about half a million visitors annually.
Among the innovations from the last year that Harris expects to continue building is the increasing role the public has in the often-controversial Hall of Fame inductions.
Earlier this year, a significant number of fans were admitted to the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the 7,400-capacity Cleveland Public Auditorium. With the unveiling in October of the final nominees for 2013, the organization also for the first time made provisions to incorporate fan voting into the process.
“It’s pretty exciting to have the fans be able to attend, like we did in Cleveland,” Harris said. “That adds a whole different dimension. Not that the induction ceremony wasn’t great before, but to have the really passionate music fans, the people who listen to the music and it means so much to them - to be able to have them celebrate with the bands they love is incredible.”
That’s the plan again for the 2013 ceremony, which will take place in Los Angeles for the first time, at the 7,100-capacity Nokia Theatre. “We’ve been building this great base and want to make it better,” Harris said. “We want to expose more people to it, and we’re working to find ways to be relevant and to stay relevant to younger audiences. By definition, this museum focuses on older acts, in that to be inducted you have to have made a record 25 years ago. So that’s part of what we’re looking at.”
Harris recognizes that the Hall of Fame will always face the issue of explaining why certain musicians have never been admitted, whether it’s progressive rock acts such as Rush (the top vote-getter during the just-concluded fan vote part of the process), the Monkees or Gram Parsons.
“The answer is that everybody has certain artists in music that mean a lot to them at a certain time in their life,” he said. “For the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, by its definition, it should be reserved for less than 1 percent of those that ever recorded, and when you do that, some are going to be excluded; some are not going to make the list. I have my favorites that are not inducted, and some day I hope they are.
“Some artists have sold a lot of records, but they haven’t necessarily been impactful or influential; they haven’t been the pioneers. And to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you have to be influential and impactful on the art form.”
And that’s one big distinction between the Rock Hall and his former employer, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., where he worked his way up to vice president of development before moving into the same position at the Rock Hall in 2008. “It doesn’t matter how you won 300 games - if you win 300 games, you’re in” the Baseball Hall, he said. “When you’re into the world of art and aesthetics, people’s sense of that changes. You’re dealing with subjective decisions and subjective criteria. The exciting thing is that people talk about it and they care about it.
“When the results come in ... whatever way it goes, there’s going to be a lot of passion,” he said. “That’s fun, and that’s one of the great things about it.”
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