A Boston landmark ever since opening more than 100 years ago, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum stands as a testament to its namesake’s vision. Mrs. Gardner’s vast art collection and the building she modeled after a 15th century Venetian palazzo to house it are works of art in totality.
With the space’s visuals taking an obvious priority, a challenge can arise when it comes to sound reinforcement – wires and clunky loudspeakers can ruin the carefully-crafted aesthetic the museum presents proudly to the world. In addition, Mrs. Gardner placed stipulations on what could be done to the museum, specifically that permanent installations of artwork could not be significantly altered. This prohibits installations of sophisticated audio equipment in the museum, as the preservation of the artwork will not allow for such a thing.
“About three and a half years ago we had a new building construction project; We built a new administrative building that’s got a concert hall in it,” says Doug Cunningham, IS Manager for the Gardner Museum. “We used to have concerts in our tapestry room with 200 to 250 people. It was producing too much wear and tear on the historic room, so one of the big projects was to build a new concert hall.”
While the audio for the new concert hall was taken care of by permanent installations (allowed in the new wing) there was still a desire to have audio in a number of places throughout the museum’s old and new buildings. Classical and jazz concerts, art openings, lectures, private functions, and corporate events are all common occurrences at the museum, and many of these events prefer to utilize space in the historic palace. Whether amplifying live musicians or lecturers or providing background music for those in attendance, a solution was needed to bring quality sound with as little imposition as possible.
In the past, hosting an event meant hiring outside contractors to set up temporary equipment. This was no simple task.
“The museum closes at 5:00 PM and events typically begin between 6:00 PM and 8:00 PM,” says Julie Pearson-Waclawik, Program Production Manager for the Gardner Museum. Staff has that window to set up for the event. That meant plugging into a limited set of outlets and running chords as close to edges of walls and walkways as possible to keep them relatively out of sight, with conservation staff providing supervision to ensure art is not compromised during installation. Between time constraints, restrictions, and cost of hiring contractors, it became apparent that purchasing their own audio tech would be a worthwhile investment.
A solution was found in the L1 system from Bose Professional Systems. The L1 system was recommended to Gardner Museum staff based on the success a staff member had with the product in a previous position at a different venue. The staff at the Gardner Museum use four L1 systems to work for a wide range of activities at the museum: Through each of these applications the L1 system configurations provide the right sound while complementing the space visually, or, in some cases, being out of sight completely. By combining the L1 systems with a makeshift wireless setup using Shure audio receivers, the Gardner Museum is able to create nearly invisible wireless sound, improving the audio quality in these spaces and saving the museum on outside AV costs.
“Permanent installation in the historic building is a problem so portable speakers are the order of the day,” says Cunningham, “The L1s just fit really well. We bought one to try out and it worked out really well. I think we have five of them now. One of the other things we did that was really cool is that we took an in-ear audio system and converted it to our own use so that we could distribute audio to multiple L1s, simultaneously or individually, wirelessly. We use a Shure PSM900 transmitter to transmit audio to 1-4 P9RA receivers connected to the same number of L1’s depending on the setup or we use a Shure ULXP4 receiver connected to 1 L1 with an SM58 wireless microphone for small speaking events.”
With the L1 speakers staff at the Gardner Museum has all but eliminated the constraints that once plagued them when setting up audio equipment in the historic palace. The speakers feature extenders that help to throw audio when larger events take place, and can collapse again to provide more camouflage when shrouding the system is necessary. The speakers have been used to bolster sound in rooms that already have systems, such as Calderwood Hall. As for quality, the staff insists the L1 speakers have rivaled if not surpassed previous systems used for events.
“The sound is perfect,” says Pearson-Waclawik.