While it is still seeking legislative authority to initiate a $25 million bond issue to help fund the project, the Oklahoma Historical Society is moving forward with plans to construct a $33 million popular culture museum in Tulsa's Brady Arts District and has hired a director for the museum.
Dr. Bob Blackburn, director of the Historical Society, said Jeff Moore -- who helped coordinate and design the Oklahoma History Center's "Another Hot Oklahoma Night" exhibition that explored the state's rock 'n' roll heritage -- has been named the director of the Oklahoma Pop Museum and is performing his duties from an office at the History Center in Oklahoma City.
Moore is being paid from the Historical Society's budget, a sign of the agency's commitment to making the museum a reality, Blackburn said. Though the museum has not progressed beyond the planning stage since it was announced in May 2009, Blackburn said a good deal of work is being done on the project, and he is optimistic about the chances of the bond issue being authorized during this legislative session.
A recent decision by the Tulsa Metro Chamber to list the securing of funding for Oklahoma Pop as one of its legislative priorities was a major boost for the project, he said, and the Historical Society's own board of directors voted at its January meeting to make the establishment of the museum its No. 1 priority, as well. The society included a request for authorization of the bond issue in its proposed budget.
Historical Society officials have recognized their organization does not adequately serve the people of the Tulsa area, Blackburn said.
"Mike Neal (president of the Tulsa Chamber) understands the importance of this, so that's been a good partnership," he said.
A request for the authorization last year was not acted upon because of the recession. Blackburn said he understands that money remains tight at the state Capitol this year, but he said one thing working in favor of his agency's request is the timing of the bond issue process. If the Legislature votes to authorize it this year, the bonds could be sold beginning in January 2012, and it would be January 2014 before any money actually would have to be appropriated to pay for those, he said.
By then, he said, the economy likely will have recovered to the point where state revenues are back to pre-downturn levels.
"We really believe our project can be a catalyst," he said. "What I'm trying to sell is that this is a good investment in the future of Tulsa," he said.
Blackburn believes Oklahoma Pop is particularly important to the future of the Brady Arts District, where several other museums are in the works. But someone needs to get the ball rolling, he said.
"My observation is that many people in the Brady District are poised to do something," he said. "They've accumulated the land, and they have ideas, but they're really putting their decisions on hold until they see more."
The $25 million the potential bond issue would provide would go a long way toward getting the planned 45,000-square-foot museum built. Oklahoma Pop is intended to focus on all aspects of pop culture in which Oklahomans have made their presence felt, including music, radio, television, performance venues, concerts, movies and Route 66.
A $1 million challenge grant from the George Kaiser Family Foundation already has been secured, though a major fundraising effort for the project is being delayed until the bond issue is authorized. But Blackburn said some smaller contributions have been sought to help begin putting together the museum's collections.
"We want to be prepared so that if someone puts a guitar on EBay with an Oklahoma connection, we can act on it," he said.
Pop Goes the Museum. The $25 million the potential bond issue would provide would
go a long way toward getting the planned 45,000-square-foot museum built. Oklahoma
Pop is intended to focus on all aspects of pop culture in which Oklahomans have made
their presence felt.
Blackburn said Historical Society officials are planning some activities to keep enthusiasm for the museum high. An Oklahoma Pop Web site -- built by Tulsa's Walsh Branding -- will be launched within two weeks, and some major announcements concerning the museum's collections are planned within the next three months, he said.
Additionally, elements of the "Another Hot Oklahoma Night" exhibition are due to go on display at the student union at Oklahoma State University's Tulsa campus this spring, he said, while the History Center's "Starmaker: Jim Halsey and the Legends of Country Music" exhibition will open at the Tulsa Historical Society later this year.
Agency officials are still exploring various themes for Oklahoma Pop, but Blackburn said if he had to describe the approach at this point, it would be "The Crossroads of Creativity." Oklahoma Pop will attempt to place the state's various pop culture icons in a historical context and explain how Oklahomans have gone on to impact the world at large.
"It's where people like Chester Gould (creator of the 'Dick Tracy' cartoon) and Leon Russell and Bob Wills, where those people's lives have intersected and then they go out and influence the Eric Claptons and Bob Dylands and Francis Ford Coppolas of the world," he said.
Since most of the elements included in Oklahoma Pop will be products of the 20th century, the museum will have a great advantage, he said, noting that in the case of 75 percent of the stories told there, "the people who made that history can speak directly do the visitor. We've got film and video of them."
Another factor working in the favor of Oklahoma Pop is the relationship Blackburn has forged with Terry Stewart, the longtime president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Blackburn said his agency is supplying Stewart's museum with footage of Leon Russell for the Tulsa native's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later this year. Blackburn believes the two entities will have many opportunities to help each other in the future, adding that he recently received an e-mail from Stewart in which he wrote, "I look forward to our collaboration."
But the first step, Blackburn said, is getting the bond issue authorized. With the legislative session having started only recently, no action is likely to be taken on the Historical Society's request for several weeks, he said.
"This will not come on the (legislative) agenda until April," he said. "By then, there'll be a much clearer picture about funding and projects. That's when we will be raising this question."
Blackburn said if that authorization comes this spring, groundbreaking for Oklahoma Pop would come within a year and a half, and the museum would open in 2015.
If that bond issue request is put off for another year, he said, it would delay that timetable by a year.
"There really are not many options to this," he said, explaining the importance of the bond issue. "To do fundraising in the private sector, we've got to show it's a public-private partnership."
Blackburn already has demonstrated those kinds of partnerships can work, pointing to the success of the state History Center in Oklahoma City. He's willing to stake his reputation on the feasibility of Oklahoma Pop.
"If I know anything, I know that Pop will work," he said.
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