The Keeper of Rock History
One day Joe Wickens (MA ’14) handles a dress Whitney Houston wore on the award circuit. On another, it’s David Gilmour’s black Stratocaster, one of the most iconic guitars in rock history.
“If you hear [Pink Floyd’s] ‘Money’ on the radio, that’s the guitar you’re listening to,” he said.
“That’s one of those guitars that was heavier than it physically was. You could feel a certain weight and you can feel a certain aura coming off it for sure.”
As the collections and exhibits manager at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he’s the keeper of rock history. Nearly every artifact that arrives at the museum passes through his white-gloved hands.
It’s hallowed ground and a role that was a long time coming.
One of his favorite exhibits
When Cleveland hosted the NFL Draft, the Rock Hall created an exhibit highlighting the past 55 years of Super Bowl halftime shows.
“I couldn’t have been more proud of the team to come together and make that happen under a very tight deadline.”
Joe, who specialized in museum studies in CSU’s graduate history program, began his career at the Rock Hall in security. At the time, it was the only job he felt qualified to pursue. And even though it wasn’t his ideal position, he was in the type of space that he’d fallen in love with as a child. Plus, he was certain a door would open somewhere down the line.
So, he learned everything he could. The grounds. How curators used the galleries. The names of the accountants.
“A museum is more than just the curators and the people that are on the team to create the exhibits,” he said.
After three years, and two promotions in the security department, he became a curatorial coordinator. A little over a year ago, he was promoted to his current role.
Now, his work involves the painstaking process of ensuring the museum’s over 40,000 music artifacts are catalogued and preserved properly. He’s also a part of the team that mounts the exhibits. And then, there’s being a tour guide, one of his favorite parts of the job.
“Probably the most satisfaction is from delivering those tours and getting to engage with people directly and give them that insight into the show that the casual visitor walking through might miss,” he said.
“[It’s] getting to highlight those things that really draw out the story that the curators are trying to tell.”