Woody and buzz
The University of Tulsa. Philbrook Museum of Art. The Brady Craft Alliance.
We’ve known for some time that these institutions/organizations will extend their existing presences with satellite facilities in the former Mathews Warehouse in the downtown Brady Arts District.
The original vision for the facility included the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa (AHCT), currently housed in the Harwelden Mansion.
But when AHCT decided to exit the planned Mathews Warehouse complex and build a new facility from the ground up just a stone’s throw away, rumors began to swirl about what or who would take the organization’s place.
As we now know, the Woody Guthrie Archives are coming home to Oklahoma, permanently. Thanks to the ongoing generosity of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which paid a reported $3 million to make this acquisition happen, the comprehensive collection of Guthrie’s writings, drawings, correspondence, lyrics and much more will reside in the Mathews Warehouse.
Other than the fact that this is just extremely cool on many levels, why is this important not only for Tulsa in general but also the Brady District specifically? In a word, buzz — that rascally un-definable, impossible-to-manufacture thing that the French describe as “Je ne sais quoi” (I don’t know what).
Since 1992, Nora Guthrie (Woody’s daughter) has overseen the collection in the small town of Mt. Kisco, N.Y.
“The decision to transfer the collection over to our Tulsa friends was a slow and deliberate one, evolving over a long period of time,” she says on the official Woody Guthrie website.
Over the past 20 years, with fundraising a constant struggle, the mere existence of the archives was never a guarantee. What Guthrie refers to as a “fortuitous meeting” with the George Kaiser Family Foundation finally cemented the future of the project.
As reported in February’s TulsaPeople, through April 29, Gilcrease Museum will host the exhibition “Woody at One Hundred: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration 1912-2012,” featuring selected archival items, including the original draft for “This Land is Your Land,” on display for the first time in Oklahoma. The show is curated by The GRAMMY Museum and the Woody Guthrie Archives and sponsored by the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
To go a little deeper, The University of Tulsa will host a conference March 10 called “Different Shades of Red: Woody Guthrie and the Oklahoma Experience at 100.” And if that weren’t enough, The GRAMMY Museum has organized a concert featuring the likes of Arlo Guthrie, John Mellencamp, The Flaming Lips, Roseanne Cash and others that will take the Brady Theater by storm this month. Visit www.woody100.com.
All of this only serves to raise awareness about everything else going on in the Brady District. The Mathews Warehouse complex has a solid chance of becoming the anchor of the area.
A year or two ago, I would have argued that ONEOK Field held that position in perpetuity, but I am beginning to wonder. I’m not delusional. In the war between sports and culture in Oklahoma, at least as far as sheer attendance goes, I know that sports will usually come out on top.
But because the ballpark is in use for only about half the year and these organizations will offer new and interesting experiences day in and day out, the role of leader is ripe for the picking. (That’s assuming these organizations can function together in a way that achieves collective goals.)
Tulsa has been around for a long time, and I’ve lived here for most of my life. Sheer chance and random biology led me to be alive and kicking at this moment in time, in this place. To say I’m excited would be a gross understatement, so maybe I’ll just leave you with the words of Nora Guthrie: “To be a part of this Oklahoma ‘renovation’ feels like being in the right place at the right time, aka ‘grace’. Or maybe just luck.”