Friday, April 3, 2015

19. EMP Museum: Rebel, Jedi Princess, Queen: Star Wars and the Power of Costume

Nineteen down. Thirty-six to go.

The EMP's Sky Church held me captive
 watching Jimi Hendrix's powerful
Woodstock performance.
There is really no excuse for my prior ignorance about the EMP museum. I literally live in the neighborhood and pass the iconic Frank Gehry designed museum on a daily basis. I've even been inside a number of times over the years, having taken my kids there when they were younger. Still, when I re-visited EMP recently for this blog post, the sheer size of the museum and the variety and quality of its exhibits impressed me as never before.

My re-education started when a well-informed friend said, somewhat to my surprise, that he believes the EMP is one of the most interesting and deserving arts organizations his company supports. Then, it continued on a recent Saturday afternoon when I tried to soak up the entire museum (including the Star Wars costume exhibit) in a single visit, and almost immediately found myself stopped in my tracks by Jimi Hendrix's powerful Woodstock performance playing on the huge LED screen. The image was so crystal clear and the sound so incredibly good that of course I watched the entire performance. Realizing there wasn't going to be nearly enough time to do the EMP justice in one afternoon I signed up for a membership and have already been back a second time.

The EMP is a non-profit "dedicated to the ideas and risk-taking that fuel contemporary popular culture." Founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2000, the EMP has organized dozens of exhibits, 17 of which have toured in the US and internationally. The museum features interactive spaces where visitors can do a hands-on rock and roll exploration, the world's largest collection of artifacts celebrating Seattle musicians Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix, and an impressive mix of educational programming. The education programs include "Creativity Camps" for kids, Teen Artist Workshops, and an annual sci-fi and short story contest for 3rd to 12th graders. The EMP is also, of course, the home of the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame.

The Star Wars costume exhibit showed the incredible artistry required to create the wardrobe for hundreds of humans and other creatures. The costumes from the original trilogy were the most familiar to me, but the work done on a host of characters for the subsequent movies was perhaps even more impressive. The exhibit also brought to mind Carrie Fisher's description, in her one-woman show Wishful Drinking, of her reaction to the Princess Leia costume and George Lucas's comment that there were "no bras in space."

I now understand that there are way too many offerings and programs at the EMP to summarize in a single blog post. To get a better sense, check out the EMP at

A final suggestion for your EMP visit: A few steps to the north across Fifth Avenue is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's visitor center. It is free of charge and well worth checking out.

The costume exhibit featured everyone's
favorite Wookiee. 

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