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The museum scored its greatest public exposure during the “A Prairie Home Companion” broadcast. Museum officials even permitted the playing of “The King” violoncello on air, though such special occasions might happen “maybe once every generation,” Johnson said.

It’s a decision made on a case-by-case basis, balancing the rarity of the instrument, its condition and the potential audience reach, he said.

Leach said the National Endowment for the Humanities grant is designed to bring in $3 in private donations for every $1 from the government. It also gives the museum a little street cred in cultural circles, since all applications for funding are peer-reviewed.

“We only fund one out of six, and they’re all assessed by and graded by experts in fields,” Leach said. “This got a wondrous review by a panel on the world’s leading experts in not only museum studies but music studies.”

Expansion plans call for adding about 65,000 square feet of gallery space to the existing 23,000 square feet. The limited space has not only prevented instruments from getting their proper display, but also has hampered curators’ efforts to find creative and hands-on ways to program and teach visitors and school groups, Johnson said.

“The new building is still years away,” he said. “I’d imagine it will be fully used the minute they cut the ribbon.”




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