Roland Hayes Museum; Calhoun, GA

Local boy does good “museum” dedicated to a now mostly forgotten African American vocalist. Honestly, you’ll learn more about the man via Google than from this place. NOT worth the trip.

This place to be blunt about it pissed me off. I had seen pamphlets for it around town which looked professional and inviting, so even though I had initially gone to Calhoun with the intent of seeing New Echota only to find it closed (they’re only open Wed-Sat), I tried this place instead because of the misleading brochures. I found it to be a pathetically weak excuse for a museum.

Firstly, there is NO signage in front of the building telling you the Roland Hayes museum is in there (or if there is I couldn’t find it), rather you see a prominent sign for the Harris Arts Center in front of an historic looking hotel, located on the towns main street next door to the county government building, that seems to be recently, and (more importantly) expensively renovated. In retrospect, this fact betrayed what I believe to be the museums true purpose … which was NOT to honor Roland Hayes. After much confusion, and second guessing myself as to was I in the right place,  I went in.

Essentially, I found a mid sized room set off to the side of the front door, inside of which was mostly just some randomly placed pictures and documents on the walls of the room. The place was so haphazardly ‘hung’ that it took me a full 20 minutes to even figure out who the guy was (as a former art major and history major I was getting really pissed off, a five year old could have done a better job of organizing the place so that it told a story). Considering he was a recording artist whose work was now in the public domaine you would think they would at least have someplace where you could listen to his music —  you can on their web site — but NO. And when I say the ‘documentation’ was hung haphazardly, I mean it… they ACTUALLY buried the lead, to use a journalism term; at the far end of the room, and around a corner into a hallway that leads off to some meeting rooms (which don’t feel like they’re part of the museum, so that you get the sense you should not go there) I found a framed newspaper article about the man saying he was the top selling African American vocalist of his day — THAT should have been front and center, as it answers the all important question of, “as a total stranger whose never heard of the guy, why should I care?”

Afterwards, while searching the internet I found recordings of his in the public domain, were they available to hear at the museum? NO… I found a documentary shot in 1990, had they made a deal with the filmmaker to show it at the museum, of course not. I did however spot these things available for purchase on a display in the far corner of the museum store behind the other goods they were working hard to sell, which was mostly what I think may have been art made by locals… or it could have been from China, I didn’t look too closely.

To be perfectly honest, the more I looked at this excuse of a “museum” and compared it to the rest of the very large space in which it was placed — that was being actively used by a bunch of local (dressed to the hilt and bouffant haired) society women’ (not one of which was a person of color) on that Tuesday afternoon, I developed a theory as to why it was there at all. I think the town leaders wanted to convert an old hotel in the center of town into a ladies art center and, looking around for external grants, realized their town had a famous POC and they could get government and other funding for the building’s renovation if they simply devoted one room of that building to him —  I’m sure their grant proposal said something to the effect that the rest was intended to honor him by promoting the arts (and I’m sure they throw in just enough yearly events ‘in his memory’ to ensure that funding is not revoked). Did I mention there isn’t even an easily visible sign on the exterior of the building saying the museum is in there?  I honestly think more money was spent advertising the space via pamphlets than on actually creating something for people to see once they got there… because, and of course this is all my personal opinion, their real purpose was to renovate the building for the elites of the town and to draw in some tourism dollars to the city — hoping that the ‘hooked fish’ who have driven all this way, after having spent 10 minutes (maximum) walking around the room and finding little to see, will then explore the town a little and hopefully spend some money in the local economy.