When McNally Smith College of Music abruptly shut its doors late last year, hundreds of people were displaced. The institution listed financial trouble and low enrollment as the reasons for the swift closure.
Since then, the college has sat empty on Exchange Street in downtown St. Paul. Because everything ended so quickly, everyone was left to wonder as to what would happen to all of the college’s instruments, furniture, decorations, and other miscellaneous items.
This week, that question is being answered. Over the course of three days, Grafe Auctions will be hosting an auction for McNally Smith. There will be over 3,000 items up for grabs, including “music recording, mixing and sound equipment, Yamaha grand and baby grand pianos…speakers and amplifiers, guitars and other stringed instruments, keyboards, percussion pieces and sets, microphones, Apple computers, sheet music and full music library…desks, furniture, workstations, office equipment, and more!” according to the auction’s website.
While most of the items are instruments and technical equipment, the auction also includes decorations including murals of Prince and Bob Dylan. Need more cowbell? There’s a whole bin of them, with bids starting at $60.
Bidding will take place June 20-22 (both online and on site), and the public is invited to the former McNally Smith campus today, June 18, from 1-6 p.m. and again tomorrow, June 19 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. to view the items in person before purchasing.
I went over to the auction around 1:30 p.m. on Monday to scope out the scene, and it was already drawing a crowd. Although, it didn’t feel that way at first.
When I walked in, what caught my eye was all the caution tape. It adored many of the exits and “off limits” areas, forcing you to follow the signs leading to the actual auction. As I made my way down the halls, my shoes made a distinct echoing sound.
Once I walked through the last doorway, the atmosphere completely changed. Aisles of guitars, turntables and drum sets were filled with inquisitive customers. “There will be a crowd.” I overheard a Grafe employee say of the auction. If the turnout for the preview was any indication, they surely won’t be wrong about that.
As I weaved through the various recording studios, offices and study rooms packed with furniture and equipment, I spoke with many people who had some of the same sentiments about the experience. Most of the attendees saw the auction advertised online, and some hadn’t even heard of McNally Smith or what had happened to it. For those who did know, one phrase I kept hearing was “It’s just so sad.”
Indeed, it felt a little sad walking around the school. It was as if everyone just stopped what they were doing and left, which really isn’t that far from the truth. When McNally Smith closed, many of the people involved with the college didn’t know until they showed up for work and classes on that morning. Evidence of that was apparent just by walking around. Notes from classroom lectures were left on a majority of the whiteboards, an open tissue box was left on a desk in a counselor’s office, a fully stocked supply cabinet had unopened bottles of hand sanitizer and the last menu from the Sound Bite Cafe on campus was still written on a sandwich board.
While the closure of McNally Smith was devastating for many, this auction may offer new hope for some. I ran into Jonathan Davis from Bethlehem Church in Minneapolis, who was visiting the preview with some of his colleagues.
He admitted to not knowing much about McNally, but he was grateful for the abundance of recording equipment, instruments and microphones. High-quality music equipment isn’t always easily available to the church. “Being able to make our limited resources stretch further really helps,” Davis said. “We like to do as much as we can, but sometimes we don’t have the best tools.”
It sounds like McNally Smith, in the wake of its demise, will be able to provide those tools to Davis and people like him who are looking for a new way to use items that proved its students well for so long.