Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame

View of EMP/SFM from the Seattle Center with the monorail traveling through it

The Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame (abbreviation rendered with a pipe as EMP|SFM) is a museum dedicated to the history and exploration of both popular music and science fiction located in Seattle, Washington. The Frank Gehry-designed museum building is located on the campus of the Seattle Center, adjacent to the Space Needle and the Seattle Center Monorail, which runs through the building.

Experience Music Project (EMP) was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and opened its doors in 2000. EMP struggled financially in its early years; as a result, Allen established the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame (SFM), which opened in 2004 in the south wing of the EMP building. When SFM opened, EMP and SFM were treated as separate museums, and visitors had the option of purchasing admission to one museum, or, at a higher cost, a combined admission to both. In 2007, after mounting criticism, EMP|SFM ended the separate admissions policy and began charging a single admission price for entrance to both the EMP and SFM wings.

EMP|SFM has provided funding for radio station KEXP in partnership with the University of Washington. EMP|SFM was also the site of the demo and concert program for the first international conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME-01) and the Pop Conference, an annual gathering of academics, critics, musicians and music buffs.

Experience Music Project

Nighttime view of EMP/SFM

The museum contains mostly rock memorabilia and technology-intensive multimedia displays. Experience Music Project showcases rare artifacts from popular music history and allows the visitor to experience music through interactive exhibitions like Sound Lab and On Stage. The Northwest passage is dedicated to the history of Seattle music, including Jimi Hendrix, Heart, and the grunge music genre.


Permanent exhibits include the Northwest Passage which is a hall containing exhibits on the history of popular music in the Pacific Northwest. Exhibits include Bing Crosby (Tacoma, Washington), The Kingsmen (Portland, Oregon), Heart (Seattle, Washington), The Presidents of the United States of America (Seattle, Washington), Sir Mix-a-Lot (Bremerton, Washington), Nirvana (Aberdeen, Washington, via Seattle), and Pearl Jam (Seattle, Washington) . Also included are some less famous artists including Queensrÿche (Bellevue, Washington), and bands far more obscure, such as The Pudz (Seattle, Washington). Numerous video clips show interviews and performance footage, and extensive commentary and additional recordings are available via iPod audio guides (specially programmed iPods that can be rented, for a fee, from a desk on the second floor).

An exterior view of the building

The Guitar Gallery is dedicated to the history of the guitar. The massive sculpture entitled Roots and Branches was conceived by UK exhibit designer Neal Potter and developed by Trimpin and made largely out of musical instruments, especially guitars, which are played by electronically controlled devices. The Sound Lab allows museum-goers to learn the basics of playing various instruments and On Stage features a simulated onstage experience.

EMP introduced a travelling collection exhibit in 2002 entitled Disco: A Decade of Saturday Nights. It remained in Seattle, WA for one year, then in 2003 it moved to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan and in 2004 to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. It has since been retired.

Past exhibitions

Artist to Icon: Early Photographs of Elvis, Dylan, and the Beatles: January 19, 2001 – May 1, 2001 The exhibition includes 48 black-and-white photographs by five photographers. The photos, taken between 1956 and 1965 show early moments from Elvis, Bob Dylan, and The Beatles.

Disco: A Decade of Saturday Night: February 2003 – October 2003

Nirvana: April 2003 – October 2004 Chronicles the first half of Nirvana’s career from 1987-1990, among the collection was rare 1990 footage of the band in Olympia, Washington, including Dave Grohl's first appearance as their drummer.

Milestones: April 2003 – October 2004 Featured a series of interconnected exhibitions celebrating diverse expressions of creativity and the independent spirit of rock 'n' roll. Highlights included the roots of rock, a focus on three key innovators—Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Janis Joplin.

Paper Scissors ROCK: 25 Years of Northwest Punk Poster Design: May 2003- September 2003 This exhibit explored the last 25 years of music-related poster art from the Pacific Northwest.

Jimi Hendrix: June 7, 2003 – August 5, 2007

Sweet Home Chicago, Big City Blues, 1946-1966 Traveling Exhibition: September 2003 - January 2004

Annie Leibovitz: November 2003 - January 2004

Springsteen - Troubadour of the Highway: January 2004- April 2004

Costumes from the Vault: June 2004- January 2007 This exhibit featured costumes and clothing from a variety of musicians, superheroes and science-fiction stars. Included were Michael Jackson’s sequined jacket and jeweled glove, Jimi Hendrix’s “psychedelic dandy” outfit, and the Superman costume from the original television series.

Beatlemania! America Meets the Beatles, 1964: February 2004- December 2005

Songcraft: The Art & Craft of Songwriting: July 2004-January 2006

Bob Dylan’s American Journey, 1956-1966: November 2004 – October 2006

Yes Yes Y’all: The First Decade of Hip-Hop: June 18, 2005 - January 6, 2008

Art of Modern Rock: The Poster Explosion: May 2006 - October 2006

Disney: The Music Behind the Magic: November 4, 2006 - September 9, 2007

American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music: October 13, 2007 - September 7, 2008 The first interpretive museum exhibition to tell the story of the profound influence and impact of Latinos in American popular music. The exhibition was created in partnership with guest curators from the University of Washington.

Message to Love: Remembering and Reclaiming: January 26, 2008 - April 6, 2008 Jimi Hendrix exhibit focused on the visitor’s experience and the visitor connection with Hendrix.

All exhibition information from EMP|SFM Web site

Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame

The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame is one of the two public science fiction museums in the world (along with Maison d'Ailleurs, a science fiction museum in Yverdon-les-Bains (Switzerland). The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame was founded by Paul Allen and Jody Patton and opened to the public on June 18, 2004. Members of the museum's advisory board include Steven Spielberg, Ray Bradbury, James Cameron, and George Lucas. Among its collection of artifacts are Captain Kirk's command chair from Star Trek, the B9 robot from Lost in Space, the Death Star model from Star Wars, the T800 Terminator and the dome from the film Silent Running. The X Prize trophy is currently on display in the museum's lobby.

The museum is divided into several galleries with a common theme such as "Homeworld," "Fantastic Voyages," "Brave New Worlds" and "Them!". Each gallery displays related memorabilia (movie props, first editions, costumes and models) in large display cases, posters, and interactive displays to sketch out the different subjects. "From robots to jet packs to space suits and ray guns, it's all here."

Temporary exhibitions

Robots: A Designer's Collection of Miniature Mechanical Marvels: May 16, 2008 - May 3, 2009 A Collection from designer Tom Geismar. Inspired by antique tin and wooden toys, samurai warriors and mid-20th century Japanese film characters.

Past exhibitions

Founders Circle at the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame

Alien Encounters: September 10, 2006 - October 30, 2007 Featured 33 original paintings of artists’ envisions of aliens over the past 70 years. Artists included Frank Kelly Freas and Ed Emshwiller.

Out of this World: Extraordinary Costumes from Film and Television: June 16, 2007 - September 30, 2007 Featured costumes from Star Wars, Blade Runner, The Terminator, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and many more of the most popular films and television shows of all time.

Innersphere: Sculptural Works by Rik Allen: November 17, 2007 - April 27, 2008 Featured glass and metal sculptural rocket ships symbolizing journeys of outward exploration and inward discovery by Washington artist Rik Allen

Science Fiction Hall of Fame

The Hall of Fame was founded as the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 1996 by the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society (Kansas City, Missouri) and the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas. The Hall of Fame moved to Seattle in 2004, stopped recognizing fantasy authors, and became part of the Science Fiction Museum. At the time of its founding, only authors were eligible for inclusion. Beginning in 2005, the Hall of Fame was expanded to include media outside the literary, and reduced the number of authors honored each year from four to one. Nominations and inductions are now made in four categories: Film, Literature, Media, and Open. Since its founding the Hall of Fame has had two Chairmen: Keith Stokes (1996–2001) and Robin Wayne Bailey (2002–present).

Science Fiction Hall of Fame Inductees

Design by Frank Gehry
  • 1996: Jack Williamson; A.E. van Vogt; John W. Campbell, Jr.; Hugo Gernsback
  • 1997: Andre Norton; Arthur C. Clarke; H.G. Wells; Isaac Asimov
  • 1998: Hal Clement; Frederik Pohl; C.L. Moore; Robert A. Heinlein
  • 1999: Ray Bradbury; Robert Silverberg; Jules Verne; Abraham Merritt
  • 2000: Poul Anderson; Gordon Dickson; Theodore Sturgeon; Eric Frank Russell
  • 2001: Jack Vance; Ursula K. Le Guin; Alfred Bester; Fritz Leiber
  • 2002: Samuel R. Delany; Michael Moorcock; James Blish; Donald A. Wollheim
  • 2003: Wilson Tucker; Kate Wilhelm; Damon Knight; Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • 2004: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley; E.E. Smith; Harry Harrison; Brian Aldiss
  • 2005: Steven Spielberg; Philip K. Dick; Chesley Bonestell; Ray Harryhausen
  • 2006: George Lucas; Frank Herbert; Frank Kelly Freas; Anne McCaffery
  • 2007: Gene Wolfe; Ridley Scott; Ed Emshwiller; Gene Roddenberry
  • 2008: Ian Ballantine; Betty Ballantine; Rod Serling; William Gibson; Richard M. Powers
  • 2009: Edward L. Ferman; Michael Whelan; Frank R. Paul; Connie Willis


USGS satellite image of the EMP in the shadow of the Space Needle.

The structure itself was designed by Frank Gehry, and resembles many of his firm's other works in its sheet-metal construction, such as Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Walt Disney Concert Hall and Gehry Tower. Much of the building material is exposed in the building's interior. The building contains 140,000 square feet (13,000 m2), with a 35,000-square-foot (3,300 m2) footprint. The central "Sky Church" room pays homage to Jimi Hendrix and other rock 'n' roll icons using a 40-foot (12 m) high, 70-foot (21 m) wide video screen and an 18-panel montage of images. The last structural steel beam to be put in place bears the signatures of all construction workers who were on site on the day it was erected. Hoffman Construction Company of Portland, Oregon was the general contractor.

Even before groundbreaking, Seattle Weekly said the design could refer to "the often quoted comparison to a smashed electric guitar." Indeed, Gehry himself had made the comparison, "We started collecting pictures of Stratocasters, bringing in guitar bodies, drawing on those shapes in developing our ideas." The architecture was greeted by Seattle residents with a mixture of acclaim for Gehry and derision for this particular edifice. "Frank Gehry," remarked British-born, Seattle-based writer Jonathan Raban, "has created some wonderful buildings, like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, but his Seattle effort, the Experience Music Project, is not one of them." New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp described it as "something that crawled out of the sea, rolled over, and died." Forbes magazine called it one of the world's 10 ugliest buildings. Others describe it as a "blob" or call it "The Hemorrhoids".

Despite some critical reviews of the structure, the building has been called “a fitting backdrop for the world's largest collection of Jimi Hendrix memorabilia.” The Outside of the building which features a fusion of textures and colors, including gold, silver, deep red, blue and a "shimmering purple haze," has been declared "an apt representation of the American rock experience."


Inside: the Sky Church.

The museum has not been a financial success. In an effort to make ends meet, the "blue blob" at the south end of the museum — which originally housed the "Artist's Journey" exhibit, resembling an amusement park ride centering around an elaborate film of a Woodstock Jimi Hendrix performance — now houses the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame.

In an effort to raise more funds, museum organizers used Allen's extensive art collection to create a 2006 exhibit within the confines of the EMP. The exhibit, which had nothing to do with either music or science fiction, was entitled DoubleTake: From Monet to Lichtenstein. The exhibit included Roy Lichtenstein's The Kiss (1962), Pierre-Auguste Renoir's The Reader (1877), Vincent van Gogh's Orchard with Peach Trees in Blossom (1888), Pablo Picasso's Four Bathers (1921) and several works of art from Claude Monet including one of the Water Lilies paintings (1919) and The Mula Palace (1908).

A subsequent exhibit — Sound and Vision: Artists Tell Their Stories, which opened February 28, 2007 — had far more connection to the museums' missions. The first exhibit at the complex to bring together both music and science fiction in a single exhibit, Sound and Vision draws on EMP's and SFM's collections of oral history recordings.