Group Hopes To Build Oklahoma Pop Culture Museum

Jamie Oldaker toured the world drumming for the likes of Eric Clapton, among others, but he never lost touch with Oklahoma, where he honed the skills that enabled him to spend his life making music.

Oldaker, who grew up in Tulsa, has lent his support to a group pushing for the construction of a museum that would showcase the many contributions to music, acting, writing and the arts by people with ties to the state.

“People just need to be aware that Oklahoma’s not just a bunch of cowboys running around and Indian casinos,” Oldaker said recently by phone from his home in Norman. “I’m proud to be an Okie and the state of Oklahoma that supported us all those years.”

Photo: Sue Ogrocki/AP
Jamie Oldaker, left, with Bob Blackburn, exec. director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, at the Oklahoma History Center, in Oklahoma City.

Despite the support of Oldaker and other accomplished artists for the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture, which was conceived of seven years ago, it has failed to secure the $40 million in state funding needed to construct the building in Tulsa’s Brady Arts District. With the project in limbo, many of the 100,000-plus donated items, including films, recordings and other memorabilia, are sitting in boxes at the state’s history center in Oklahoma City.

The museum proposal has had a rough go of it in the Legislature. In 2013, plans to seek financing were withdrawn so the state could focus on rebuilding after tornadoes raked several Oklahoma City suburbs. This year, the project took a back seat to a $188 million budget shortfall.

The museum, nicknamed OKPOP, wasn’t the only high-concept development to fall victim to the budget ax this year. Plans to appropriate $40 million to match another $40 million in pledges from private donors to complete the building of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City went nowhere. That museum sits unfinished along the banks of the Oklahoma River.

Backers of OKPOP have vowed to lobby the Legislature again in 2015, saying it’s vital to have a place that documents the story of popular culture in Oklahoma – from Leon Russell to Kings of Leon, and just about everybody in between.

Last year, Russell donated more than 4,500 items to the planned museum, including thousands of photos, more than 1,300 audio recordings, 100 video recordings and old concert programs, posters and tickets, among other artifacts in the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s vast collection. Oldaker has donated a drum kit he used while playing for Clapton in the 1980s.

“I’ve got an asset that has worldwide marketability,” said Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. “What we’ve got to do is get financing for the bricks and mortar. Once we get that solved, everything else will fall into line. But I’ve got to get that piece of the puzzle.”

If OKPOP gets the money, Blackburn says the museum will be self-supporting, thanks to revenue from admission fees, special events it would host and a 600-car garage that would be built next to the museum.

Some lawmakers see the potential tourism draw for the state.

“I think it will be a much better mood, especially if our revenues increase,” said state Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa. “I would see the pop museum as the centerpiece for the entire area and something we can actually advertise to other states that we have this very cutting-edge, great exhibit of Oklahoma talent.”

Oldaker – like some of the other artists who trace their roots and careers to Oklahoma – said he’s prepared to support the cause in any way he can next year, and he urged fellow celebrities to follow suit.

The risk of the state going without a place like OKPOP?

“There’s (items) sitting around that are going to end up on someone’s garage sale table, and it’s going to be tossed out,” Oldaker said.