The Beat Goes On: Popular Music in Museums


Popular music has always had great social and political significance in modern societies, and for cities like Liverpool, its musical heritage has become a valuable asset helping to profile and sell the city on the world stage.

In 2001 the Guinness Book of Records named Liverpool the world 'City of Pop' and in 2008 an Arts Council survey named Liverpool 'the UK's Most Musical City'. There’s no doubting that Liverpool shares a very special relationship with music, with the city’s economy benefiting greatly from the visitors and investment it helps attract.

The project

Since its launch in 1988, staff and students at the University’s  have conducted extensive research into the popular music cultures and histories of Merseyside. This has included pioneering research into the relationship between music and place, as well as extensive investigation into how music influences and is influenced by urban decline and renewal.

It has also provided the basis for three exhibitions staged in partnership with National Museums Liverpool: 'Harmonious Relations', 'Talking Traditions' and ‘The Beat Goes On’.

Launched as a flagship event for Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture 2008, the Beat Goes On also depended on a substantial amount or original research conducted by Prof Sara Cohen and Dr Marion Leonard. As lead Curator for the exhibition Marion was heavily involved in undertaking oral histories and identifying materials within museum, record company and library collections. In addition she helped shape how materials should be presented to the public and sourced, selected, and interpreted over 1,300 objects.

Meanwhile Sara led the research for ‘Mapping the Beat’, an interactive touch-screen installation that enabled users to access six digital maps featuring contemporary and historical sites of music-making in Liverpool and Merseyside. Sara and Marion also developed ‘The Beat Goes Online’, a 250-page online resource specifically designed to accompany one of the exhibitions. Footage of 'The Beat Goes On' exhibition can be viewed in a short film by The Guardian.

The Beat Goes On… 'a rich textural insight of the times and the many social factors that have had a unique impact upon Liverpool’s grasp of music'


The Beat Goes On exhibition attracted almost half a million visitors and was responsible for delivering substantial impacts including stimulating tourism and the regional economy.

Sara and Marion went on to engage in further research on popular music heritage, with Marion leading the first detailed investigation into: popular music collections and exhibitions within UK museums; collecting practices and policies; museum interpretation and curatorship and, the communication of music histories. This particular study has gone on to help:

  • Enrich public understanding of, and engagement with, popular music history and heritage, and the experience of      museum visitors through the dissemination of original research
  • Influence how popular music is preserved, conserved and presented within museums
  • Expand knowledge of museum collections and curatorial approaches to popular music through a series of workshops with museum professionals
  • Develop the practice of museum      professionals

You can find out more about this project by visiting the exhibition's website and  The Beat Goes Online (online resources).