Experience Music Project laid off 46 people last week--about 15 percent of its staff. With the Seattle Center tourist attraction facing declining attendance projections (down by about 12,000 people), a shrinking budget (a $4 million, 17 percent drop), and earned income accounting for only 50 percent of its coffers, Paul Allen's music museum, which opened in June 2000, had to face the music.

However, while EMP's revenues and budget are shaky at the moment, the music may not be as sad as it sounds. The good news is that the harsh numbers have forced EMP to undergo a useful reorganization--perhaps forcing staff to recognize an important reality: EMP is not the Crocodile or Graceland. In other words, EMP is not a hipster destination for club kids and indie rock-and-rollers. It's a large-scale, nonprofit museum that serves a mainstream suburban and tourist crowd. (Ever been to one of the lightly attended shows at the Liquid Lounge, or hung out with the TGIF crowd that shows up there on DJ nights?)

This is not a bad thing; in fact, owning up to this reality seems to have forced EMP to refocus on the museum's core aspects, like education programming. This recognition is evidenced by the decimated public programming division, which booked EMP's shows--it's the only division to have lost both its director, Alby Allen, and its manager, Susie Tennant, in the layoffs.

However, EMP spokesperson Paige Prill stresses that the layoffs hit across the board--not just in public programming. She also says that EMP is still strongly committed to live music--but she acknowledges, "We have done lots of live music in the past, and we may be more selective with that in the future." Prill explained that EMP will likely partner with outside support (radio stations, for instance) to do their one-off-type concerts.

Again, this sounds like a good thing to me. EMP should get out of the concert promotion business and focus on the core mission of any nonprofit museum: education. Sometimes hard times can bring out the essence of an organization.