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Bursting at the seams, Texas Music Museum seeks bigger space for decades-old artifacts

An orange electric guitar on its side inside a case
Patricia Lim
KUT News
Manuel Donley’s first electric guitar, which the Tejano pioneer made himself, is displayed at the Texas Music Museum.

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It’s cramped in the Texas Music Museum in East Austin.

Bright colored exhibits line every open space on the walls of a narrow corridor. They include memorabilia about jazz, blues, Tejano, gospel and country musicians.

The three-person staff walks closely together, careful not to knock a frame off the wall or hit a record player from the 1900s.

It’s a cozy, safe space at this museum, which has also held classes and live performances since 1984. But even with limited space, the staff beams with pride for their work.

Unfortunately, only a fraction of the up to 100-year-old artifacts are on display at a given time. Another two dozen exhibits are in storage.

“We [don’t] know where to put everything,” Sylvia Morales, community manager at the museum, said.

Sylvia Morales lifting white cover sheets to show an antique piano stored inside the Austin Police Operation Blue Santa building where the lease is ending. The Texas Music Museum is looking for more funding and space to relocate the 90% of the museum’s artifacts that are stored in this 1,000-square foot space on July 9, 2024. Patricia Lim/KUT News
Patricia Lim
KUT News
Sylvia Morales lifts a sheet to unveil an antique piano being stored in an Austin police building.

Museum staff started looking for new space at the beginning of the year. They met with the city's Music Commission on Monday in hopes of getting support to expand.

Pat Buchta, CEO of Austin Texas Musicians, has been advocating for the museum to get a bigger space.

“I think we have a few avenues to lift this thing up,” he said. “Their dire need right now is space.”

Clay Shorkey, a retired UT Austin professor, said his passion for collecting music and Austin history led him to open the museum 40 years ago.

“We don’t want to be limited to a couple displays,” he said. “We want our Texas museum to show all these incredible musicians of every genre.”

Clay Shorkey poses for a portrait at the Texas Music Museum on Tuesday. Patricia Lim/KUT News
Patricia Lim
KUT News
Clay Shorkey founded the Texas Music Museum in East Austin 40 years ago.

The museum is only about 2,000 square feet and borrows additional storage space from the police department. It has to vacate that space next summer.

Morales said museum leaders ideally want about 13,000 square feet in East Austin for exhibits and another 2,000 square feet for storage. The estimated cost for a space of that size is $330,000.

“It would be wonderful if the city of Austin can help us move forward with one of their underutilized buildings,” Morales said. “I don’t know what we would do [without it], to be honest.”

Buchta said museum staff are eyeing a redevelopment across the street from their current location on East 11th Street. City Council is discussing the logistics of building that development next week. Museum leaders said they will bring up their desire to occupy some of the space at that meeting.

“It’s very rare in this community to see a no-brainer that needs help,” Buchta said. “This place has the deepest archive of Texas music anywhere. It’s time to help these guys step up and take the spotlight.”

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