The Last Word with Ken Levit

Ken LevitAsk anyone about what makes Tulsa special. No doubt, they will highlight the community’s longstanding, outsized support for the arts. No doubt, they will discuss the exceptional arts institutions we enjoy. Top of the list always has been and always will be Gilcrease Museum.

In a sense, the commitment to the arts in Tulsa is embedded in the DNA of this city, going back to its physical foundations as reflected in the pristine art deco architecture in the core of the downtown area. And of course, the City of Tulsa’s acquisition of the Gilcrease collection, through a public bond issue in 1954, represents one of the most important days in Tulsa history.

It is also so exciting to me that the Tulsa arts scene has enjoyed a burst of new energy over the past decade. We have seen it in the growth of the Tulsa Arts District, the powerful imprint of the Tulsa Artist Fellowship and the countless artists, across all genres and in every corner of the community, who make Tulsa their home and their working studio.

But what might be most exciting these days is not just that Tulsa once enjoyed a glorious arts past or that we are experiencing a renaissance of sorts. What might be of most interest is the fact that the arts legacy of Tulsa is being embraced by the artists of today such that new ways of collaborating and telling stories are always in process.

Personally, I can speak to at least two such collaborations that have great potential to add to the current zeitgeist arts renewal and community vitality.

Recall/Respond: A Tulsa Artist Fellowship and Gilcrease Collaboration is curated by Carolyn Sickles, executive director of the Tulsa Artist Fellowship, and Laura Fry, senior curator of art for Gilcrease Museum. In their first project of this kind, Carolyn and Laura have put together an amazing exhibition that showcases the vast pool of talent Tulsa is attracting and nurturing. This exhibition arises out of a juried selection process for the Tulsa Artists Fellows who were invited to see the Gilcrease collection and then submit their work as inspired by the collection. The artists interpreted – whether through performance or sculpture or painting – the themes that came to life in the museum. This juxtaposition of the historic collection with contemporary artists, representing such a broad cross-section of life experiences, promises to be highly engaging.

Second, Bob Dylan: Face Value and Beyond is the culmination of efforts by The Bob Dylan Archive®, The Bob Dylan Center and Gilcrease Museum. This exhibition not only features Face Value, a collection of paintings by the Nobel Prize-winning folk singer, but personal effects and ephemera that have been housed in The Bob Dylan Archive® here in Tulsa since it was acquired.

Though Dylan is best known for his music, he was also a writer of prose, a filmmaker and someone who has been involved in the visual arts for decades. We are enthusiastic about creating an opportunity to explore all the different avenues of Dylan’s creativity. The exhibit includes handwritten song lyrics, a black leather jacket worn by Dylan, the artist’s electric guitar and screen tests filmed by Andy Warhol.

These relationships, juxtaposing the historic Gilcrease collection with contemporary artists like the Tulsa Artist Fellows – as well as with the iconic Bob Dylan – are helping to define Tulsa in new ways that are authentic to and arising out of Tulsa’s history.

We have much to look forward to in our community, including the renovation and expansion of Gilcrease as well as the opening of The Bob Dylan Center. The arts defined the emergence of Tulsa, and they will set a bright course for its future, too.