Legislature should approve bond for OKPOP museum
BY MIKE JONES Associate Editor
Sunday, May 06, 2012
5/13/12 at 7:21 AM
Quick! No Googling allowed. What Walt Disney character has its roots in Oklahoma?
If you guessed Mickey Mouse, you're wrong. It was the hot-tempered, saliva-spewing but always lovable Donald Duck. "Unca" Donald wasn't born here but his voice was. That voice belonged to Watonga native Clarence Nash.
Nash, of course, wound up in Hollywood at Disney's studios where he imprinted that unforgettable, irresistible voice that every kid in the 1950s and '60s did their best to imitate, with very few having any success.
The story of Nash and Donald is one that needs to be told to Oklahomans. Their story and countless others are the object of a proposed pop culture museum that would be built in downtown Tulsa. OKPOP is a proposal by the Oklahoma Historical Society that would bring together interactive exhibits of film, music recordings and artifacts that would reflect Oklahoma's impact on movies, Wild West Shows, radio, television, illustration, literature and Route 66.
This idea was raised a year or so ago and gained little traction. Many people, when they heard that a pop museum had been proposed, wondered why anyone would want to visit a museum devoted to pop music.
It is, however, much more than that. The list of Oklahomans who have made contributions to the arts is far too lengthy to publish here. Musically, it ranges from Woody Guthrie to Bob Wills to Ernie Fields to Charlie Christian to Leon Russell to The Flaming Lips. Movie stars such as Tony Randall, Vera Miles, Tom Mix, Ben Johnson, Wes Studi, Mary Kay Place, Will Sampson, Alfre Woodard, Jennifer Jones, James Garner and Tim Blake Nelson are Oklahomans. The Five Indian Ballerinas - Moscelyne Larkin, Maria Tallchief, Marjorie Tallchief, Yvonne Chouteau and Rosella Hightower - all were from Oklahoma.
There are those who might not have been raised here, but were either born here or lived here at some point. They are the ones with one degree of separation such as Ron Howard, Joan Crawford, Brad Pitt and Buster Keaton.
The list goes on and on. Each has a story. Each has an impact on Oklahoma and their respective professions. Each deserves to have their stories preserved and available to the public, especially to Oklahomans.
The Oklahoma Historical Society has a good track record of making projects work through a combination of public and private donations and that are self-supporting. In fact, the Oklahoma History Center near the Capitol in Oklahoma City is one of its success stories.
Plans for the Tulsa museum, OKPOP, call for a four-story structure that would feature almost 25,000 square feet of exhibit space and another 41,000 square feet of public and semi-public space. Also included would be research areas, classrooms, performance space and retail outlets. It all would sit on a 90,000-square-foot lot, donated by the Bank of Oklahoma, at Archer Street and Cincinnati Avenue. The architectural renderings are stunning.
To build this world-class museum, its backers are asking the Legislature to approve a one-time $42.5 million bond issue to finance construction. Those costs include $26.7 million for the museum and $10.7 million for a parking garage.
When this idea came up earlier it ran headlong into funding for the Native American Cultural Center in Oklahoma City, a project that has been under construction on and off since 1997. That project has received three state bond issues totaling $63 million along with millions more in city and federal funding.
Its supporters are asking the Legislature for another $40 million in bonds. The last time legislators linked the two projects, although they cannot by law be on the same bond issue. The deal was that if the Legislature approved the bond for the Indian center, it also would approve a bond, at a later date, for the Tulsa museum. That plan, thankfully, failed.
When such deals are proposed, Tulsans' antennae go up. They know how many times Oklahoma City has received state largesse and were told that Tulsa would be the "phase 2" of funding. And they also know how many times Tulsa was left holding the bag.
This proposal is more straightforward. This time Tulsa would receive money in time to start construction almost immediately with a grand opening by June 2016.
In their hands
The decision is in the hands of the Legislature. And it must make a decision before the end of the month. There is guarded optimism. Some insist that the only bond issue to pass will be one to repair the crumbling state Capitol.
Repairing the Capitol is important, no doubt. But is it any more important than preserving our history, our culture? This likely is Oklahoma's last chance to keep within our state what is ours. The Tulsa Chamber has set in motion an attempt to "brand" this region. What better brand than the one that has been given to us by so many talented Oklahomans?
As for those who say it's too big a gamble or the negative Neds who always say nothing will work, well, Will Rogers had something to say about that: "You've got to go out on a limb sometimes because that's where the fruit is."
Oklahoma Historical Society Executive Director Bob Blackburn says this facility has a chance to be one of the handful of elite museums in the nation, putting Tulsa in the exclusive league with Nashville, Seattle, Cleveland and Los Angeles.
That's a bold dream and statement, but I think he's right.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Oklahoma. This is a job-creator. This is a history-saver.
Legislators, give us, the people of Oklahoma, a chance to preserve what belongs to us and to offer it to the world. Say "yes" to OKPOP.
Original Print Headline: Ok, Okpop
Mike Jones, 918-581-8332
Rendering of the proposed OKPOP museum. Courtesy