Dance, Dance, Revolution: Olympia Music History at the Washington State History Museum

by Jonah Barrett for OLY ARTS

Washington State History Museum’s newest exhibit, “A Revolution You Can Dance To,” opens Sept. 10 in Tacoma. The exhibit focuses on Olympia’s radical music scene, ranging from the late 1980s to mid ’90s. Visitors will learn about local record labels that emerged during this period, such as K Records and Kill Rock Stars, and the origins of the Riot Grrrl movement. The exhibit also delves into music festivals from the past, like the International Pop Underground Convention, Yoyo A Go Go, and the first Ladyfest arts festival.

Organized by curator Len Balli, “Revolution” was first envisioned for the Washington State Historical Society’s State Capital Museum. That proposal included decorating an old bedroom as a teenager’s room from the ’90s. “It would’ve had posters on the wall–with a guitar and bed, clothes with relevant band T-shirts–and feature this one time period in Olympia’s history,” said Balli. Renovations at the State Capitol Museum, however, placed the exhibit on hold until Balli proposed a smaller version of the concept for the Society’s Tacoma museum.

The exhibit proposal received high praise from board and staff, including new Washington State Historical Society board trustee Krist Novoselic, the bass guitarist for Nirvana. Novoselic energetically assisted the exhibit by talking with his former Nirvana bandmate Dave Grohl and Frances Bean Cobain, daughter of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, who died in 1994. Novoselic and Grohl helped shape the exhibit.

With the assistance of this trio and the board of trustees, Balli’s exhibit expanded from a few panels in one of the museum’s small galleries to the larger exhibit it resides in now. The exhibit now includes work that promoted 1990s indie record labels Bikini Kill, K Records and a number of Olympia-based artists, including Sleater-Kinney and Nirvana.

Exhibit curator Balli stated she hopes Olympians will visit the exhibit for a kick of nostalgia, but also to teach the younger Olympia crowd about their city’s influence on American culture.

“The general attitude was, ‘You know what? I’m not just going to go to the show; I’m going to be the show. We’re going to take the world by storm and you’re going to have to recognize us.’ It was exciting to watch!” said Balli.

What: A Revolution You Can Dance To

Where: Washington State History Museum,
1911 Pacific Ave, Tacoma

When: Sept. 10 – April 23, with live Olympian band performances the third of each month after 5 p.m.

How much: $8-$12 (free 2-8 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month)

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