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Motown Museum’s expansion plans to bring more interactive spaces for fans

Historic museum hopes to become a place where fans in the Detroit community can hang out and enjoy events such as pop-up performances

DETROIT — After years of serving music fans, the Motown Museum will be reopening late this summer with a new expansion that will grow the Motown experience.

The museum was founded by Esther Gordy Edwards, Berry Gordy’s sister, in 1985. Her goal was to preserve the legacy of Motown Records, the famous label founded by Gordy in 1958.

“My grandmother, Esther Gordy Edwards, laid the foundation. She had the foresight to even preserve the birthplace of Motown, and so the story starts there with the foundation she laid,” said Robin Terry, CEO of the Motown Museum since 2014.

Motown was a dominant record label in the 1960s and home to artists such as The Temptations, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, and Diana Ross and the Supremes. The studio was located in Detroit in Gordy’s two-story home. Gordy is the creator of the word “Motown,” which is commonly used to refer to the city of Detroit.

“Those two words Motown and Detroit are synonyms,” said Terry. “They represent a very rich legacy of music and excellence, Detroit’s best.”

In 1972, Berry Gordy decided to move Motown Records from Detroit to Los Angeles to pursue opportunities in the movie industry and shine more light on his artists.

“As a kid growing up on the east side of Detroit, Hollywood was an unattainable, mystical fantasy,” Gordy said during a ceremony to unveil Berry Gordy Square in 2019, according to the Los Angeles Times. “But as Motown grew, our success made me realize that there was no limit to how far we could go. I wanted my artists to reach their full potential, so we came here to Hollywood.”

This decision left the famous blue and white house idle, but many fans continued to tour the inside. Gordy Edwards noticed what was happening and decided to turn the home into a museum.

Since its opening, fans from all around the world have visited the museum. As the Motown Museum grew, it was able to provide more opportunities for those in the community, including the Hitsville Next program, which offers educational experiences for those interested in creative outlets such as developing their own music.

“It was a wonderful program. A lot of things I learned just about the music business: writing, artistry, all of those different things,” former summer camp member Carrington Simone said.

Motown provides three programs for Hitsville Next: Motown SPARK is a daily summer camp for middle schoolers, Ignite is a daily summer camp for high schoolers and Amplify is a program for adults who want to expand their careers as musical artists.

“Throughout my time of just being a camper, I definitely had a lot of experiences with different professionals, understanding the art of songwriting, understanding the art of the business and then being mentored by Rhonda Ross Kendrick, which is Diana Ross and Berry Gordy’s daughter,” said Simone, a music student at Oakland University.

“It was amazing being able to ask her questions about her experiences, things she knows, just how to really be a true performer because she’s a jazz musician and her performances are incredible. So it was really truly an honor to be a part of that program because it definitely helped me gain so much knowledge that I have today about music and something that I am extremely passionate about.”

In October 2021, five years after the announcement of the expansion, the museum was closed for construction. It has received much support, including a $5 million grant from philanthropist Mackenzie Scott. The entire project cost $50 million, according to the Motown Museum.

The expansion will occur in three phases. The first phase will connect three homes that Gordy purchased to create space where Hitsville Next will operate. The second phase will create a plaza where people can hang out and connect with other Motown fans. The last phase will contain a new immersive exhibit space, cafe and performance theater.

With these changes, it is hoped that the Motown Museum will become an interactive space for the community where people can relax and attend pop-up performances.

“Motown becomes that place you can just go hang out and just like in the mid-’60s, you never know who you’re gonna see and you never gonna know what the activity is that’s going on. So we’re looking forward to bringing that plaza activation to the community,” Terry said.

As Motown prepares for the expansion, the plan to increase engagement for fans goes back to the original idea of the museum by Gordy Edwards.

“I have the honor to lead this project,” said Terry. “For me, it’s personal and I take a lot of pride in it and I’m humbled by it because it is leading the iteration of my grandmother’s dream for the world to know Motown’s story and to continue to engage with the story.”

Monet Heath is a senior journalism major and sports administration minor from Detroit. She is a reporter for Spotlight Network, a training organization at Howard for students majoring in broadcast journalism, TV production, audio production and film. “As a Rhoden Fellow, I am looking forward to growing as a sports journalist and covering events and topics that focus on the history and growth of HBCUs and Blacks in sports.”