Board members of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in Muskogee know this isn't the best climate in which to raise $16 million for a new home for their organization.
But as board member Mike Martin puts it, "The future waits on nobody. We believe it's something the state can get behind."
Supporters of the museum anticipate launching a capital campaign sometime in 2010 to raise money for the new building, which is expected to open in 2014 or 2015. Martin said the new facility is something that has been dreamed about for 15 years, but it didn't begin taking shape until the last couple of years.
Now the effort is becoming more serious. Martin said the hall is exploring various grant opportunities from area foundations, and it expects to have some kind of start on meeting its $16 million goal throughout the next several months. After that, he said, fundraising efforts will begin in earnest.
"We know we're not ready for somebody to write us a $16 million check," said Max Boydstun, president of the hall's board of directors. "But we have to start the planning process. Times will not always be tough in Oklahoma."
Martin said the effort has a five-year timeline.
"Even if we raised the money this spring, we would still be three years out," he said. "We think within five years, we'll be underway with the expansion."
That $16 million would go to construct a three-story, 35,000-square-foot facility that would seek to engage visitors on a number of levels, Martin said. The new building would be located adjacent to the hall's current, interim home, the renovated Frisco Depot at 401 S. 3rd St.
The hall of fame was created by an act of the state Legislature in 1996 but has always struggled for funding. Its current home in the rustic former railroad depot is long on charm but short on the kinds of bells and whistles that more and more contemporary museums are able to provide to visitors.
Martin intends for the new facility to be a much different experience.
"What we've patterned it after is more like an exhibit like Disney would do than a static museum," he said.
The problem with traditional museums, Martin said, is that they appeal to a limited audience.
"The old, static museums are a money pit, to be honest," he said. "It's always a struggle to keep the doors open. When you just have artifacts on display, your visitors come in and look at them, and, unless you get new artifacts, there's no need to go back again."
The best way to have a museum that works, he said, is to have attractions that change every six months or so.
"Museums now and in the future will have coming attractions just like any other box office thing," he said.
Martin envisions a free-flowing museum that begins with an experience depicting the musical traditions of the Plains Indians who inhabited Oklahoma for hundreds of years before the coming of European settlers. From those beginnings, the experience would move forward through the decades, demonstrating to visitors how Woody Guthrie and Bob Wills became two of the most influential artists in American history, while a host of jazz musicians from Muskogee, Tulsa and Oklahoma City redefined the genre.
Eventually, patrons would see how Wanda Jackson carved out a place for female artists in rock 'n' roll in the 1950s before a slew of stars that began with Roger Miller in the 1960s and that now includes Vince Gill, Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks and Carrie Underwood would come to dominate the country charts. Video displays and touch-screen monitors would be plentiful, along with the mementoes--boots, hats, instruments--that mirror what a more traditional music museum might feature.
Martin said the hall would create partnerships with entities such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Experience Music Project in Seattle, playing host to exhibits from those organizations. It would feature a Hall of Fame room with an exhibit focusing on that year's class of inductees, while a 150-seat performance space also would be built, along with a gift shop and library and archives space.
Outside, a courtyard would be constructed between the new building and the Frisco Depot, which will be converted into a performance space patterned after a classic country dance hall. The courtyard would feature bronzes of inductees and a festival-type atmosphere, led by the presence of three railroad cars that would be parked nearby. A flat car would serve as an outdoor stage, a caboose would host children's activities, and a box car would be used for storage.
Martin said the new building itself will cost about $9 million. The remaining $7 million would go to build exhibits.
"We're going to be working with some of the best exhibit designers in the country," he said. "We want the exhibits to be something that, if you've ever been to Disney World, you won't be disappointed here."
Martin and Boydstun know the new headquarters will need to be impressive to keep up with some of the new museum projects planned for Tulsa throughout the next few years, including Oklahoma Pop and the Route 66 Experience, both of which will be interactive, state-of-the-art museums.
Martin acknowledged there will be a certain amount of competition between the hall of fame and those organizations for visitors, particularly Oklahoma Pop, but he thinks the addition of all those entities to the state's cultural landscape is a good thing for all involved.
"We hope to eventually send people to each other," he said, noting that a common complaint about those who want to spend several days visiting Oklahoma is the lack of indoor cultural attractions.
"We all stand to gain from each other," he said. "That's the idea behind Las Vegas, after all. If there was just one casino there, it wouldn't make it. We don't see it as competition; we see it as us standing next to Oklahoma Pop or the Hard Rock."
It's more likely, he said, that all those museums will be competing for money from the state's philanthropic community.
"We all know there's only so much to go around, but music culture is our richest export to the world," Martin said, explaining that the hall's directors feel an obligation to convey that story to the world.
"I just know that when this becomes a reality, what we're planning is really going to catch people totally off guard," he said.
The Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame will operate at a very high level, he said. He expects that when the full impact of Oklahoma's musical past is presented to visitors, they will experience a response they didn't anticipate.
"We'll tell a lot of stories that will make people emotional, and they'll see they had a bigger tie to this state than they ever thought they did," Martin said. "I look forward to that day."
Anyone interested in donating to the hall of fame can call 687-0800 or visit the Web site at HYPERLINK "http://www.oklahomamusichalloffame.com"www.oklahomamusichalloffame.com.
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