Like the lights of Broadway, the new Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture (OKPOP) shines brightly on Tulsa’s Arts District as a beacon of entertainment on Main Street. Featuring Oklahoma’s influential musicians, actors and other artist in a wide range of industries, visitors to the new museum will journey through Oklahoma’s creative history, immersed in popular culture from yesteryear through today’s arts, music and culture scene.
The new 55,000 square foot, 3-story building, designed by Overland Partners Architecture + Urban Design in partnership with Tulsa’s Lilly Architects, radiates the toe-tapping energy of early old-time string bands to Western swing, from yodel infused blues to smooth, pop-influenced vocals and well-known generational performers.
OKPOP’s expressive personality shines brightly outward, captivating passersby and attracting visitors with strong angles and its shiny glass and ornamental steel panels. Its street-facing façade, almost 75 feet at its tallest point, dazzles with billboard-like signage and gold tone metal cladding on a cantilevered outcrop that is reflective and glamorous. Visible from historic Route 66 and across from the iconic Cain’s Ballroom, it confidently announces its presence connecting Oklahoma’s pop culture icons from the past and present into the future.
Through film, video, audio recordings, artifacts and cherished keepsakes, guests are immersed in the evolution of music through engaging, rotating exhibits on three floors that also includes a live performance space, an event venue, and a large terrace overlooking downtown.
“It’s like OKPOP has two egos—its outgoing, attention-seeking front face of the building, and its alter ego, the more subdued, contemplative back portion,” said Albert Condarco, Overland Architect, and member of the design team on the project.
Bob Wills’ original tour bus, beautifully restored and fully operational, greet guests and transports them to an earlier time when Wills, who with his band the Texas Playboys, combined jazz and country music to create Western Swing, a music genre that exploded in the 1940’s and endured for decades. While the museum is home base for the bus, it can be taken on the road to festivals and as a traveling marketing mouthpiece.
OKPOP boasts Oklahoma’s influence on culture through the arts, entertainment and media, yet it is more than nostalgia- tinged music and memorabilia. Immersing guests in a multi-sensory experience, Oklahoma’s influence on the pop culture scene comes to life through vivid and engaging exhibits, modern sounds and household-name artists who have cross pollinated Western, Pop and Rock genres, film, television, theatre, pop art, comic books, and literature.
Because of its flexible design, the new multi-purpose event center located on the second floor will accommodate multiple private events and gatherings simultaneously, such as weddings or corporate functions. Featuring a special acoustical system, it is designed for live entertainment, concerts and performances. Depending on the event, the space capacity ranges from 160 to 499 guests.
Nestled on the top of OKPOP, framing stunning views of downtown and Cain’s Ballroom, the Roof Terrace is an outdoor space for smaller, less formal gatherings, such as cocktail parties and receptions. A large, modern metal trellis adds drama and intimacy to the space, while native climbing plants provide shade during hot Oklahoma summers.
According to the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS), the forward-thinking organization that created the idea to tell the story of “…the creative spirit of Oklahoma’s people and the influence of Oklahoma artists on popular culture around the world,” OKPOP is being built with $25 million in bond funds from the state to feature Oklahoma talents.
Condarco said OHS wanted to create a new building in Tulsa about the history of arts, music, theater and film, while connecting content to current culture. “OKPOP brings visitors up-close and personal to artists, sharing stories and personalities of the past while celebrating the future and connecting it to the here and now.”
“Since popular culture is about different types of cultural products that gain mass popularity and appeal, the museum will continue to explore new artists, materials and genres. Exhibits will change over time to stay relevant,” he said.
OKPOP is being built by General Contractor Nabholz Construction on land donated by Tulsan David Sharp and Interak Corp. in the Tulsa Arts District. The project broke ground October 23, 2019, however, construction and fundraising were slowed by COVID. Completion of the project is anticipated for early 2022.
“OKPOP will be a lively place to be entertained and educated at the same time,” said Condarco.
Overland Partners – Design Architect
Lilly Architects – Architect of Record
Nabholz Construction – Contractor
Wallace Engineering – Civil & Structural
Arup – MEP, Acoustic Design, A/V, Fire Alarm & Fire Sprinkler Design
Haley Sharpe Design – Exhibit Designer
Schuler Shook – Lighting Designer
Howell & Vancuren – Landscape Architect
FSC, Inc. – Life Safety