The saga of OKPOP has been a frustrating one. The pop culture museum hit a stalemate last year, putting its future in question even as Oklahomans expressed enthusiasm for the project and celebrities donated personal belongings.
The Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture, located at 422 N. Main St., sits on a prime spot — across from Cain’s Ballroom and within blocks of the Tulsa Theater and the Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan centers. Its shiny gold exterior, inspired by Bob Wills’ guitarist Eldon Shamblin’s Stratocaster, was finished a little more than a year ago.
Since then, the museum has sat half done.
The museum was proposed in 2008 as a place to tell the story of creative Oklahomans and their influence on popular culture around the world. Staff amassed artifacts, photographs, film, music and other media from the state’s top stars and influencers. A broad swath of Oklahomans are represented from the fields of music, art, literature, film, television and sports.
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It was envisioned to be a site equal to venues such as Seattle’s MoPOP, Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame.
Once OKPOP is complete, the Tulsa Regional Chamber estimates it will add $36.5 million to the local economy annually. It’s a worthy and popular endeavor.
State lawmakers are reluctant to contribute. The state contributed $25 million through a revenue bond issue in 2015 but turned down all other funding requests, including from the American Rescue Plan Act. Even further, the Legislature last session approved $46 million in bonds for the Oklahoma Historical Society — which oversees OKPOP — on the condition that none of it be used on the incomplete museum.
The refusal rankles, considering that the Legislature put $90 million into the First Americans Museum near the state Capitol, plus another $6 million from federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. It’s an impressive and unique Oklahoma attraction, but OKPOP holds the same potential.
Despite the Tulsa snub, supporters are charging ahead to finish OKPOP. A couple of announcements in recent weeks indicate a corner has been turned.
Most significant is a $30 million capital campaign to complete the museum’s design, construction and installation for a late 2024 opening. The honorary chairperson of the fundraising effort is Oklahoma country music superstar and “The Voice” coach Blake Shelton.
Shelton will be the face of the campaign to bring awareness and encourage others to donate. We have no doubt his influence, charm and advocacy will make a difference. Shelton will be working with OKPOP Foundation Chairman D. Scott Petty of Stillwater and Abby Kurin, managing director of the foundation.
In addition, notable Oklahomans continue contributing artifacts, such as last week’s guitar donation from Journey guitarist Neal Schon. They believe in the potential and the important role OKPOP plays in preservation.
We’re optimistic that OKPOP is moving in the right direction. It’s too bad elected officials have bowed out of support, but Tulsans know a good thing when they see it.