TULSA, Okla. — The 100,000 or so artifacts earmarked for the would-be Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture have for several years been neatly tucked away in numerous boxes at the state's history center in Oklahoma City.
While historians pined for the day when they'd be able to show off all the films, recordings, art and other memorabilia, critics assailed the proposal as a vanity project that would never get off the ground.
Now, the OKPOP museum in Tulsa has a heartbeat. House lawmakers approved a $25 million bond issue for the museum Friday, one day after it failed by seven votes. The bill calls for the construction of a 75,000-square-foot, four-story building that is expected to open in late 2018.
Located in the Brady Arts District that's come alive in recent years with nightclubs, pubs and niche shops, OKPOP will tell the story of Oklahoma astronauts and nonfiction authors, actors and rock musicians, humorists and cartoonists.
"We can connect the dots here between the art and the artist," Oklahoma Historical Society Executive Director Bob Blackburn said Friday. "We can make a statewide impact and (also) share a story around the world that Oklahoma is a special place."
The building will also be home to thousands of donated artifacts from artists with Oklahoma connections, spanning collections large and small.
Music legend Leon Russell donated more than 4,500 items, including thousands of photos and 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. Jamie Oldaker, a drummer who toured the world, has donated a kit he used while playing for Eric Clapton in the 1980s.
With the $25 million bond issue, Blackburn said the museum will be self-supporting, thanks to revenue from admission fees, special events and a 400-car parking garage that would be built next to the museum. The museum estimates it would get 100,000 visitors a year and have an economic impact of about $19 million, House Speaker Rep. Jeff Hickman said.
"Think about the message we're sending to our great Oklahoma artists," the Fairview Republican said. "If we don't (build) this, who will?"
Backers of the museum often found themselves at odds with some legislators who weren't convinced such a venue could support itself. And timing wasn't always a friend, either: In 2013, plans to seek financing were withdrawn so the state could focus on rebuilding several Oklahoma City suburbs after deadly, devastating tornadoes.
The museum proposal now heads to Gov. Mary Fallin, who is expected to sign it.
"This is the right thing for the state to celebrate," said Larry O'Dell, director of special projects and development for the historical society. "Our history and culture is important, and you've got to celebrate your state and your people."