Bob Dylan Center Opens in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Reel to reel tape Bob Dylan Center

The Bob Dylan Centre is filled with material from the singer/songwriter’s archive, which he sold to the Tulsa-based George Kaiser Family Foundation in 2016.

06 May 2-22 | DAVID BAUDER | AP via Tulsa World

NEW YORK (AP) — Elvis Costello, Patti Smith and Mavis Staples were among the dignitaries in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the opening of the Bob Dylan Center, the museum and archive celebrating the Nobel laureate’s work.

Dylan himself won’t be among them, unless he surprises everyone.

The center’s subject and namesake has an open invitation to come anytime, although his absence seems perfectly in character, said Steven Jenkins, the center’s director.

Oddly, Dylan was just in Tulsa three weeks ago for a date on his concert tour, sandwiched in between Oklahoma City and Little Rock, Arkansas. He didn’t ask for a look around.

“I don’t want to put words in his mouth,” Jenkins said. “I can only guess at his reasoning. Maybe he would find it embarrassing.”

It’s certainly unusual for a living figure — Dylan is due to turn 81 on May 24 — to have a museum devoted to him, but such is the shadow he has cast over popular music since his emergence in the early 1960s. He’s still working, performing onstage in a show devoted primarily to his most recent material.

And he’s still pushing the envelope. “Murder Most Foul,” Dylan’s nearly 17-minute rumination on the Kennedy assassination and celebrity, is as quietly stunning as “Like a Rolling Stone” was nearly a half-century ago, even if he’s no longer at the center of popular culture.

The center offers an immersive film experience, a performance space, a studio where visitors can play producer and “mix” different elements of instrumentation in Dylan’s songs and a curated tour where people can take a musical journey through the stages of his career. The archive has more than 100,000 items, many accessed only by scholars through appointment.

Mavis Staples performs at the Cain’s Ballroom during the grand opening celebration of the Bob Dylan Center on May 5, 2022.Tom Gilbert Tulsa World

Museum creators said they wanted to build an experience both for casual visitors who might not know much of Dylan’s work and for the truly fanatical — the skimmers, the swimmers and the divers, said designer Alan Maskin of the firm Olson Kundig.

The museum hopes to celebrate the creative process in general, and at opening will have an exhibit of the work of photographer Jerry Schatzberg, whose 1965 image of Dylan is emblazoned on the building’s three-story facade.

Since Dylan’s still creating, “we’re going to continue to play catch-up” with him, Jenkins said.

So for a figure who was born and raised in Minnesota, came of musical age in New York and now lives in California, how does a museum devoted to his life’s work end up in Oklahoma?

He’s never seemed the nostalgic type, but Dylan recognized early that his work could have historical interest and value, Jenkins said. Together with his team, he put aside boxes full of artifacts, including photos, rare recordings and handwritten lyrics that show how his songs went through revisions and rewrites.

With use of those lyrics, two of the early displays will focus on how the songs “Jokerman” and “Tangled Up in Blue” took shape — the latter with lyrics so elastic that Dylan was still changing verses after the song had been released.

Dylan sold his archive in 2016 to the Tulsa-based George Kaiser Family Foundation, which also operates the Woody Guthrie Center — a museum that celebrates one of Dylan’s musical heroes and is only steps away from the new Dylan center.

Dylan likes the Guthrie museum, and also appreciates Tulsa’s rich holdings of Native American art, Jenkins said. Much of that is on display at another new facility, the Gilcrease Museum, which is also the world’s largest holding of art of the American West.

“I think it’s going to be a true tourist draw to Tulsa for all the right reasons,” said Tulsa Mayor G. T. Bynum. “This is one of the great musicians in the history of humankind and everyone who wants to study his career and see the evolution of his talent will be drawn to it.”

Bynum hopes that it also encourages others who may someday want to put their archives on display, and make Tulsa a center for the study of modern American music.

Dylan designed and built a 16-foot-high metal sculpture that will be displayed at the entrance to the museum. Otherwise, he had nothing to do with the museum’s design and declined, through a spokesman, to offer a comment about the opening.

“If Bob were telling us what we could or couldn’t do, it would have felt like a vanity project, in a way,” Maskin said. “It was a tremendous relief not to have to satisfy Bob Dylan.”

Still, it’s safe to assume the lines of communication are open if necessary: Jenkins, the center’s director, is the brother of Larry Jenkins, Dylan’s long-time media representative.

In addition to a dinner to celebrate the opening this weekend, Costello, Smith and Staples will all perform separate concerts at Cain’s Ballroom. Costello was asked to program a jukebox that will be on display at the museum and, within a day, submitted his suggestions for 160 Dylan songs and covers, Steven Jenkins said.

Maskin has no expectation that Dylan will ever see the designer’s work. Still, he indulges himself in a fantasy of a slow summer day, a security guard dozing in the corner, and someone slipping in wearing black jeans, sunglasses and a familiar mop of hair to wander among the displays.

“To be honest, I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said. “I think he’s interested in the work he’s doing, and not the work he’s done.”


The Bob Dylan Center

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Visit – Bob Dylan Center | Tulsa, OK

The Bob Dylan Center® offers unprecedented access to the creative life of one of America’s most important and influential artists.

Bob Dylan Center®
116 E Reconciliation Way, Tulsa, OK 74103

Hours

10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Wednesday – Sunday with the exception of the grand opening Tuesday, May 10.

Admission

Adults: $12

Adults Dual Tickets*: $20

Seniors (55+), veterans and students (18+ with ID): $10

Youth (17 and under) and K-12 teachers: Free

All guests, including Bob Dylan Center® members, may reserve tickets online in advance. Members receive free admission by logging into their account at the top left corner when prompted during the purchase process. For more guidance, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.

A Peek Inside

The 29,000-square-foot, state-of-the art center will feature rotating exhibits, 5,000+-square-foot archive, a 55-seat screening room and more.

Inside the Center

Explore More

The Bob Dylan Center® serves to educate, motivate and inspire visitors to engage their own capacity as creators. While the center is anchored by a permanent exhibit on the life and work of Bob Dylan, it also offers additional exhibits, public programs, performances, lectures, and publications, through which it aims to foster a conversation about the role of creativity in our lives.

Bob Dylan Archive® An ever-evolving curated display of elements that illuminate the depth and breadth of the Bob Dylan Archive® collection.

Acquired by the George Kaiser Family Foundation in 2016, the Bob Dylan Archive® consists of more than 100,000 items spanning decades.

About the Archive

An intimate perspective of the artist’s working process can be evidenced in a vast assortment of handwritten song lyrics. Beginning with songs on the 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan, much of the material is heavily revised, annotated and often includes omitted material. Highlights include various drafts of many of Dylan’s creations, along with a raft of lesser-known song lyrics and fragments.

Dylan’s Personal Musings

The collection also includes essays, poems, liner notes, correspondence, autobiographical bits and philosophical musings.

Many of these are associated with Dylan’s mid-1960s efforts while others trace the artist’s work, changing attitudes and personal activity. Another major section of the archive contains notebooks and correspondence. Recording session reports, contracts, sheet music of Dylan’s songs and scores of photographs also populate the collection.

Astoundingly, master tapes of the artist’s entire musical catalog and hundreds of hours of film and video material are in the collection, as well as the film originals of Murray Lerner’s Festival! (1965), D.  A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back (1967), Dylan’s (with Howard Alk and Pennebaker) Eat the Document (1971), Dylan and Alk’s Renaldo & Clara (1978), Martin Scorsese’s Bob Dylan: No Direction Home (2006) and a host of music shorts and videos.

A Scholarly Endeavor

Following on the heels of Tulsa’s relatively recent acquisition of the Woody Guthrie Collection, Bob Dylan’s archive stands to make the city an essential location for conducting scholarly popular music research and generating artistic activity. This is fitting, as Guthrie was a significant early inspiration for and influence on Dylan. 

Dylan’s  long and continuing artistic career strides an ever-changing American environment that touches on many disciplines, and this collection provides a rich source of material for scholars of popular music, film studies, American studies, history, sociology, political science and cultural studies. Continued biographical, literary and musical research on Dylan will depend on access to this collection by scholars from around the world, and we can anticipate the steady creation of papers, monographs, colloquia, symposia, conferences and classroom studies emanating from this collection.

The Research Continues

The examination of “Chimes of Freedom” lyrics scrawled on hotel stationery and dotted with cigarette burns. The dissection of Dylan’s decision to transition from acoustic to electric. The analysis of correspondence between Dylan and beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Each of these are examples of the vast amount of information waiting to be unearthed and research waiting to be conducted.

TU’s Helmerich Center for American Research, located on the grounds of Gilcrease Museum, along with the Woody Guthrie Center, have positioned Tulsa to become a focal point for scholarly inquiry into American popular music.

James Porteous

James Porteous is an author, photographer and researcher. Clipper Media News is a daily publicatioin featuring news and views you can use.

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