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The Louis Armstrong House Museum and upcoming Visitors Center in New York provide a deeper dive into the life and art of one of America’s greatest musicians. Contributor Franck Mercurio speaks with Jonathan Alger of C&G Partners, whose team designed the experiences for the Center's exhibition gallery, introducing visitors to Armstrong's music in fun and engaging ways.
From 1943 until his passing in 1971, trumpeter and jazz great Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) lived in a modest house at 34-56 107th Street with his wife Lucille Wilson in the Corona section of Queens, New York. Their home, now a museum, documents every aspect of the Armstrongs’ domestic life and many aspects of Louis’ creative life, as well.
C&G Partners is collaborating with Caples Jefferson (architects), Art Guild (fabricators), and Potion (interactive designers) to create a new Visitors Center located directly across the street from the Louis Armstrong House Museum. The Center will accommodate ticket sales, a gift shop, an exhibition gallery, an historical archive—and, of course, a jazz club!
Jonathan Alger, Managing Partner at C&G, is leading the design of the Center’s exhibition gallery which focuses on Armstrong and his many contributions to the American cultural scene, including his many talents as virtuoso trumpeter, composer, singer and actor.
“I think one of the key things is Armstrong himself,” says Alger about how to best engage visitors at the Center. “For the project to have resonance, it’s important that people are reminded how important a musical figure and cultural figure that Louis Armstrong was. Period.”
Circles and circular forms dominate the exhibition gallery, which Alger calls the “the heart of the Center.” These include frames for historic photographs and display cases for artifacts which surround the gallery’s focal point: a large, round interactive table. These circular forms were inspired by the House Museum’s graphic identity, designed by Milton Glaser, best known for his iconic “I [heart] NY” logo.
“The original brand, that we love, was created by a deceased friend of ours, Milton Glaser, one of the greats of 20th century graphic design,” says Alger. “[Glaser] created a very simple logo for the Armstrong House Museum: a series of concentric circles meant to suggest the business end of a trumpet and perhaps a record turntable or a tape-to-tape reel or headphones.”
Alger and the team at C&G kept Milton’s original idea, and elaborated on it in a 21st century way, consulting first with Glaser before he passed away.
The big circular table in the center of the space includes interactive stations around its perimeter. A projector creates the illusion of a giant record album spinning on the table’s top.
“It’s a media interactive that a whole crowd of people can use at the same time,” says Alger. “Every groove is a different story with a different soundtrack about Louis’ life and music.”
Of course, audio plays a vital role in the Visitor Center’s exhibits. Each display has its own hi-fidelity soundtrack which visitors can listen to on hand-held devices provided by the Center’s staff. It allows the Center to really bring to life Armstrong’s many contributions to American music.
“Armstrong is the one who made the trumpet a jazz instrument; he’s the one who popularized this thing called ‘scat’ singing; he’s the one who made jazz into a soloist’s artform—he had so many impacts,” says Alger. “And despite all that, he’s not very well known to modern audiences.”
The Armstrong Visitors Center and its exhibits will provide a corrective to that when it opens in late Spring 2021. To learn more, visit the Louis Armstrong House Museum website.