While acknowledging that the state's financial difficulties may make it difficult for legislators to meet his request, the head of the state Historical Society said he has asked for money to help fund a new Tulsa museum in its budget request for next year.
Dr. Bob Blackburn, executive director of the state Historical Society, said a request for lawmakers to approve a $25 million bond issue to help fund the proposed $33 million Oklahoma Pop museum in Tulsa's Brady Arts district is in his agency's budget that was submitted Oct. 1.
Since that time, the state has continued to receive bad news about its overall budget outlook for next year, culminating in a recent announcement that legislators would have $1.3 billion--or 20 percent--less to spend in 2010 than they did in 2009 because of the poor economy.
"We're going to move forward as aggressively as we can, knowing this is a tough year," Blackburn said.
City and state officials unveiled their plans for the museum in May. The proposed 45,000-square-foot building would focus on the state's contributions to pop culture, delving into such areas as music, television, radio, performance venues, concerts, movies, Route 66 and other things that were created or strongly influenced by Oklahomans.
The museum is planned for the Brady Arts district on the north side of downtown, where dozens of other prospective museums are also on the drawing board. The George Kaiser Family Foundation already has announced a $1 million challenge grant for Oklahoma Pop.
"I think the budget situation is narrowing the window of opportunity, obviously, but to me, this needs to be done," Blackburn said. "The community of Tulsa has been unbelievably excited about it. The attitude there is, 'Let's not wait,' and I understand that. But I think everybody needs to be patient."
Blackburn said his agency will know by May whether its request for the bond issue has been granted.
"We will probably take a low-key approach early in the session," he said of the Historical Society's strategy for lobbying legislators. "With the state laying off teachers and cancelling meals for the elderly, this is not the best time to be raising the flag for something new."
Even so, several projects associated with Oklahoma Pop are already in the works. Blackburn said a Historical Society film crew was in Tulsa last week conducting interviews for a documentary called "The Tulsa Scene." The 60-minute film focuses on musical traditions from the Tulsa community and is scheduled to be finished by January, with Rogers State University professor Hugh Foley narrating. Blackburn said the film likely will be aired statewide in February.
"We're trying to keep attention drawn to the project," Blackburn said, explaining the purpose of the film. "This is a good idea and something that I think will happen, whether it's this year or next. We're trying to seek allies."
Blackburn said the Historical Society staff also has been in touch with a number of individuals who have volunteered to share items with the new museum, including Tulsa music impresario Jim Halsey. Halsey--who has managed the careers of such country music stars as Roy Clark, Reba McEntire, Dwight Yoakam, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and others--will have his collection featured in an exhibition opening in February at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City.
"That's 60 years of history in one person," Blackburn said.
The society also sponsored a 20-episode radio program put together by former Tulsa musician Steve Ripley called Oklahoma Rock and Roll that has been airing on public stations across the state.
The series explores the music of Oklahoma artists and songwriters, and their influence on rock 'n' roll.
"We just finished the first 20 shows, and they'll be repeated next spring," Blackburn said, adding that society officials also have visited with Ripley, former owner of the legendary Church Studio in Tulsa, about sharing his collection of Leon Russell materials with the museum when the times comes.
Blackburn said the museum would feature materials highlighting the careers of such Oklahoma musical luminaries as Hank Thompson, Wanda Jackson, Garth Brooks, Clark and McEntire.
"That's certainly a good indication of the kind of collections that will be there," he said. "Of course, we do not have signed deals (with collection holders) at this point because we don't have a museum yet. But I'm confident that will happen."
Blackburn said the response to the museum by many of the artists who will be featured in it has been wonderful.
"Most of them have said, 'Whatever you need, you can have it,' " he said.
The proposed budget for Oklahoma Pop calls for $25 million to be spent on land acquisition and construction, $5 million to put together the exhibits and $3 million to create an endowment to be deposited with the Tulsa Community Foundation, a sum expected to generate $150,000 a year to be spent on new exhibits.
According to preliminary designs, the front of the building would feature an iconic 50-foot-by-80-foot media façade for full LED video presentations and promotional information. Its entryway has been described as the "wow room," an area that touches on all elements of pop culture while doubling as a special events venue.
The building would feature 16,000 square feet of exhibit space, 7,000 square feet for special events and programming, a gift shop, a rooftop coffee shop, and affiliated spaces for research, admissions, storage, administrative offices and restrooms.
Oklahoma Pop, which would attract an estimated 200,000 visitors a year, would represent the first Historical Society facility in Tulsa.
Blackburn said it's important for lawmakers to realize that he's not seeking the $25 million right away.
"We don't have to have the cash this year," he said. "We just have to have the authorization."
Once the authorization to sell the bonds is obtained, Blackburn said, his agency would be able to access the challenge grant from the Kaiser Foundation.
"We can use that to start building a staff, and hire architects and museum planners," he said.
Despite the state's financial problems, Blackburn is sticking by his projected opening date of 2013 or 2014 for Oklahoma Pop if the authorization for the bond issue comes through.
"There's a lot of work to be done, but we would get started right away," he said.
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