A new museum focusing on one of Tulsa's most recognizable attributes--its plentiful Art Deco architecture--is in the planning stages and could open its doors within the next year, according to the museum's founder.
Local artist William Franklin, the vice president of Tulsa Now who is perhaps best known for creating the most recent Mayfest poster, said he was looking for a community-enhancement project to take on when the realization came to him that there was no museum in town that celebrates the Art Deco style of design. Franklin, a self-taught artist whose work usually reflects classical influences, had just completed work on the Mayfest poster, which featured an Art Deco theme.
"That got me to thinking about doing a museum focusing on Art Deco architecture," he said.
Franklin has moved quickly to make his idea a reality, naming the museum Decopolis, putting together a board of directors and applying for nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service. He's reaching out to volunteers and potential donors, and hopes to open a modest version of the museum sooner rather than later.
"If I were to guess, I'd say probably in the next year, I would like to have some small space to start in in an existing building," he said. "After that, we'll go from there."
Franklin said any such space would feature Art Deco displays, rather than simply serving as the headquarters for his fledgling organization, which is operating under the umbrella of the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa until it receives its 501(c)(3) certification from the IRS. Ken Busby, executive director and CEO of the council, said that process can take anywhere from six months to a year. The Decopolis submitted its application three months ago.
Busby has been advising Franklin on such aspects of the project as fundraising and location scouting, as well as putting him in contact with other local museum projects that are still in the planning stages.
"That's so we have a community of knowledge and we're not duplicating efforts," Busby said.
Busby said he also is helping Franklin engineer a partnership with the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture, an organization with a strong interest in preserving and promoting the city's Art Deco heritage.
Franklin said his research into the Art Deco field has yielded one big surprise so far--as near as he can tell, there won't be much competition for his project. He said he's only been able to identify one Art Deco museum anywhere in the world, an obscure roadside museum in Australia. Considering the enduring popularity of a design style that rose to prominence in the 1920s and 1930s, that was unexpected, he said.
Busby was surprised, as well.
"People talk about it, and there have been books written about it," he said. "But this has a chance to be a really nice landmark for Tulsa and a model for other cities."
Franklin envisions nothing short of creating the biggest and best Art Deco museum in the world, which appears quite possible considering the competition at the present time. He is still putting together the specifics of Decopolis, but he envisions a lively place that engages visitors through a performance space and some sort of educational element.
"I go to some museums, and frankly, they're kind of boring," he said. "They're quiet, and you hear people whispering. I don't want that kind of place."
Franklin's ambitious plan calls for the eventual opening of not just a museum itself, but one located in the midst of an entire streetscape featuring merchants employing Art Deco design elements, something akin to a back lot at a Hollywood movie studio. In fact, that's part of his plan for making the museum self-sufficient, by leasing space to those merchants. Franklin himself plans to open a gallery and gift space in the museum featuring his own work.
"I really would like for us to create a museum more self-sufficient than most," he said. "If we could just get the seed money that most museums are getting, that would be enough to get us most of the way there (toward opening in a relatively modest space). We're not talking about $30 million here, although this would be something that would evolve and grow."
According to a prospectus Franklin has compiled, the museum also potentially could include a "town square," a fine arts gallery, dioramas and a tour of Art Deco elements through the years, as well as a café and coffee shop, perhaps even a jazz/martini lounge.
Franklin said he hasn't put together a budget for the project, and he has no minimum square footage requirements in mind.
"If we get a good location, we'd take less space," he said. "If the location is not so great, we'll go for more space."
His strong preference, he said, would be to locate Decopolis downtown, perhaps even in the Brady district, where so many other museums are being planned, including the Cain's Ballroom Museum and Oklahoma Pop, a state Historical Society project that will focus on Oklahoma's contributions to American popular culture.
Franklin already has begun communicating with local collectors who have pieces they might be willing to have displayed at Decopolis. He was happy to discover that many Tulsans have salvaged elements of Art Deco architecture from downtown buildings that long ago fell victim to the wrecking ball.
"I've been talking with different people and collectors, and seeing what they have from old buildings around town," he said, adding that he recently visited with a man who had kept an Art Deco bank teller window from a demolished building.
And during a recent visit with one of his art clients, Franklin said he discovered the man had a massive collection of model cars, trucks and tractors from the 1930s--enough to fill several rooms, he said.
"If we could get a space in short order, we could have a great museum just with those kinds of things," he said. "What better a fit for Tulsa, which is known the world over for its Art Deco collection of buildings."
The organization's first public event, the Deco Ball, is scheduled for the Crystal Ballroom at the recently reopened Mayo Hotel and Luxury Apartments on Saturday, Nov. 14. Franklin described the ball as the launch of the museum's fundraising and awareness campaign.
Franklin also anticipates that the museum's Web site, HYPERLINK "http://www.decopolis.org"www.decopolis.org, will be launched within the next week.
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