Little Theatre Auditorium, New London, Minnesota, US
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, our museum landed halfway across the world in New London, Minnesota.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to intensify in mid-2020, our Director was approached by an old colleague with an intriguing idea.
Bethany Lacktorin, a multidisciplinary artist, composer, and community organiser, had recently moved back to her home town of New London, Minnesota (pop. 1,252) and rescued the town’s century-old theatre from permanently shutting down. Unfortunately, the pandemic hit just as she was finalising some big plans to renovate the building and begin offering live performances.
Lacktorin decided to go ahead and begin offering entertainment anyway at the now-renamed Little Theatre Auditorium – except it would be put on for tiny audiences of one (or two) people at a time and observe strict COVID-19 prevention guidelines, under the name Art By Appointment.
What if, she asked, she put together a physical ‘museum of portable sound’ exhibit in the theatre space using her own collection of vintage audio gear, at the end of which visitors would find a table containing a computer with our Director appearing live by video chat (as we had already begun doing) to present a guided tour of the actual Museum of Portable Sound?
Needless to say, it was too good of an idea to pass up – even if the time difference between New London, Minnesota and Portsmouth (where MOPS is now located) – was a challenging six hours, meaning our Director would sometimes be hosting ‘afternoon’ visits well after midnight his time!
The two directors collaborated via video chat on choosing the physical objects that would be displayed. But the Little Theatre’s director did all the actual work, which – including professional pedestals, a red carpet and red velvet queue barrier – was the perfect combination of media archaeology scholarship, traditional museum display, and absurdist whimsy.
The first of an ongoing series of twenty online visits occurred on 20 July 2020, continuing on occasion through October of that year. Along the way, the Little Theatre’s renovation kept a steady pace while MOPS welcomed two milestone visitors: Tempo (our first ever canine visitor), and to this day still our youngest ever visitor baby Catherine, who actually listened to several of the sounds in our Permanent Collection Galleries!
Although some of our initial ideas didn’t manage to materialise due to pandemic-related complications (such as organising a local field recording session, and a group discussion of New London’s signature sounds), the residency proved a success – and we are incredibly proud that we were able to help relaunch the Little Theatre Auditorium as a vibrant, eclectic local arts venue that continues to thrive years later.