It seems odd that it has taken until now, Bob Dylan’s 82nd year, for the first museum dedicated to his work to open.
But the $US10 million Bob Dylan Center has, indeed, opened in July in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the US, with Elvis Costello and Patti Smith there to mark the occasion.
Its curated exhibits come from a collection of more than 100,000 items which span his career.
The Bob Dylan Center (currently spelled the American way, “center”) is in Tulsa’s rapidly growing and culturally diverse art district. There are bars and restaurants and lots of new arts venues and museums, including the Woody Guthrie Centre, dedicated to the work of this grassroots folk music icon, and inspiration for Bob Dylan. And there are echoes of the city’s oil-rich past in Cain’s Ballroom and The Tulsa Theatre.
The Bob Dylan Center was designed by Olson Kundig, a collaborative global architectural firm based in Seattle. The three-storey facade faces Tulsa’s popular public gathering space, Guthrie Green. And its front is dominated by a mural based on a rare 1965 image of Dylan taken by photographer Jerry Schatzberg.
The museum is dedicated not only to the work of the singer-songwriter, but its cultural significance. There are handwritten manuscripts, notebooks, recordings and correspondence, videos, artworks and memorabilia. There are also unreleased studio and concert recordings, personal mixes of famous Dylan recordings, and some of his musical instruments. The museum even gives, at the tap of a finger, a word map of how Dylan wrote a song.
There’s a photograph of a 16-year-old then called Bobby Zimmerman posing with a guitar at a Jewish summer camp in Wisconsin. There’s a leather jacket from the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, and the many drafts of some of his songs by him. The exhibit about his song by him Jokerman has 10 drafts. There’s the notebook Bob Dylan used when working on the classic album Blood on the Tracks. One centerpiece is a 4.8m tall metal sculpture which was designed and built by Dylan himself.
I mentioned that Elvis Costello was at the opening. He has also chosen more than 160 songs for a digital jukebox in the centre. A studio that lets listeners tinker with Dylan’s original individual instrumental tracks or isolated vocals, including those for Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.
The center also has an artist in residence — Joy Harjo, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation and US Poet Laureate.
Oklahoma oil tycoon and philanthropist George Kaiser bought the Bob Dylan Archive collection, which had been kept at Gilcrease Museum in the University of Tulsa. Then Bob Dylan Center has come from that archive. Both it and the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa operate under the American Song Archives, a project of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which is the biggest community foundation in the USA.
Visitors can buy a dual ticket for US$20, for admission to both the Bob Dylan Center and Woody Guthrie Centre, under the partnership of the American Song Archives. Otherwise, an adult ticket for the Bob Dylan Center is US$12.
OKLAHOMA MUSICAL MUSEUMS
Oklahoma lies at the heart of US folk music heritage.
WOODY GUTHRIE CENTER
Oklahoma’s “Dust Bowl Balladeer” is one of folk music’s biggest icons. The Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa has memorabilia from Woody’s life, photographs, handwritten lyrics and his instruments.
AMERICAN BANJO MUSEUM
In Oklahoma City, the museum recognizes the importance of the banjo throughout the decades. The banjo has been used in a variety of musical genres for its versatility and unique sound, and it holds a special place in the history of American folk music.
OTHER AMERICAN MUSICAL MUSEUMS
STAX MUSEUM OF AMERICAN SOUL MUSIC, Memphis, Tennessee
It’s said to be the only museum in the world dedicated just to American soul music, celebrating stars such as Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas and Isaac Hayes — it even has Hayes’ customized 1972 Cadillac, with its rabbit-fur carpet and solid gold windscreen wipers .
ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME, Cleveland, Ohio
The museum, which opened in 1995, has seven floors of rare rock memorabilia. Its name is a little deceptive as it covers a broad spectrum of music. There are exhibits from American blues musician and songwriter Robert Johnson to British hard rockers Def Leppard. There are artifacts from hip-hop and pop, and exhibits range from Chris Cornell’s guitar to Beastie Boys’ costumes.
MOTOWN MUSEUM, Detroit, Mich.
The Motown sound was born in Detroit. Its heart from 1959 until 1989 was in a modest building in Downtown which was the Motown label’s recording studio and office, and which is now this museum. There are costumes, photographs and other historic memorabilia from the label’s history.
THE GRAMMY MUSEUM, Los Angeles, California
The Museum in downtown LA pays tribute to all genres of popular music, from The Beatles to the Backstreet Boys. There are musical tutorials and instruments to play, along with handwritten lyrics.
MUSEUM OF POP (MoPop), Seattle, Washington
MoPop is one of Seattle’s most visited sites. This large museum has a big Frank Gehry curved design and is meant to convey the fluidity of music. It covers musical creativity from Nirvana’s beginnings to Prince’s Purple Rain.