MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

February 16, 2013

OMHOF to collaborate with pop museum

Shared exhibits touted as benefit of alliance

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame board members have forged an alliance with backers of a plan to build a popular culture museum in Tulsa’s Brady Arts District.

The collaboration may not have happened three years ago, when the idea for the Tulsa museum first surfaced. OMHOF officials feared then the proposed Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture might steal Muskogee’s thunder.

Pop museum backers lost their bid in 2011 for state funding needed to build the $42 million project. Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, and other pop museum supporters are taking another stab at legislative support.

In the interim, OMHOF officials have been working with Blackburn and Jeff Moore, OKPOP project director, in an effort to find ways for both entities to co-exist. Blackburn and Moore, who were in town this past week to drum up support for the issuance of a state bond that would provide construction funding for the Tulsa project, said both entities will benefit from the collaboration.

“We will be providing exhibit support for the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame,” Moore said, citing several examples of exhibits assembled during the past several years that would be made available to the Muskogee museum. “This is an opportunity where we can take the resources we have and share those with the hall of fame and develop future programming and exhibits.”

OMHOF President Jim Blair, who Blackburn said was instrumental in forming the alliance, said the board’s initial reaction to the pop museum was less than enthusiastic. But Blair said the economic realities make the collaboration with the Oklahoma Historical Society and OKPOP a necessity he believes will prove beneficial.

“The reality is the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame would never be able to sustain itself as a museum,” Blair said, recalling original plans to build a $10 million to $12 million facility. “Through this partnership, all of a sudden we have the opportunity to bring in exhibits we wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Blair said the hall of fame also would gain exposure by having a presence at the Oklahoma History Center and the pop museum as a result of events at those locations “that have something to do with our inductees.” He said the idea is to combine what the hall of fame offers and what the pop culture museum will have to “honor the music” of Oklahoma artists.

Max Boydstun, a local banker and former OMHOF director, said he had concerns in the beginning about building a pop culture museum. When it was first proposed, Boydstun said, it was going to be called the Oklahoma Museum of Pop Music and Culture.

“That emphasis on music is what led me to oppose the project, but since then we have had lots of conversations with them,” Boydstun said. “They have come to understand our position and have changed their direction a little bit — they will still have music. You can’t have pop culture without music.”

Blackburn assuaged the concerns about competing interests by explaining what OKPOP has to offer. He also outlined the differences in the hall of fame’s mission and the one envisioned for the pop culture museum.

“The difference between the hall of fame and a museum is the hall of fame celebrates the art — that is where you hear the music of all the Oklahoma artists,” Blackburn said. “What we are interested in is using the art to get someone through the door (of the museum) but then tell them the story of where they (the artist) grew up, the influences on them, their parents, music teachers, and who gave them their big break.”

In order for the collaboration to bear fruit, Blackburn said the historical society needs legislative support for a bond issue that would fund construction costs. Blackburn said the historical society has the base funding, along with private donations that have been pledged to pay off the bond without tapping the state’s general fund.

The business model includes the construction of a 650-space parking garage that would be centrally located near the Brady District. The parking garage, which would be built on land donated by the Bank of Oklahoma, would provide a steady revenue stream to support museum operations.

Lawmakers are considering the bond request during the present legislative session. Blackburn said the Oklahoma Historical Society is requesting $42.5 million, which would be matched by private contributions totaling $15 million for exhibits and collections.

Blackburn said if the bond issue is authorized, the pop culture museum would open in 2017.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.