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Published November 05, 2015
The Master of Space and Time could soon have his own museum.
The Oklahoma Historical Society announced Tuesday it had acquired a collection of more than 4,500 items connected to legendary musician and native Oklahoman Leon Russell that are intended for a planned pop culture museum in Tulsa.
The donated collection features thousands of photos, more than 1,300 audio recordings, 100 video recordings and old concert programs, posters and tickets, among other things. But the display is contingent on the Legislature passing a $42.5 million bond issue to build the so-called OKPOP Museum in downtown Tulsa.
The 70-year-old Russell — with his trademark long white hair and scraggly white beard, thick sunglasses and cowboy hat — appeared on stage at a news conference that announced the collection to a standing ovation, walking slowly and aided by a cane.
Russell's responsible for helping pioneer the Tulsa Sound and worked with musicians ranging from Frank Sinatra to Elton John. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. Along the way, the funky and flamboyant "Master of Space and Time" title stuck.
"I usually got arrested in this area and now I get a museum?" Russell quipped. "Who knew? And now the good people of Oklahoma want to build a magnificent museum to honor me and others like me. God is good, amen and amen."
The museum, which has been in the planning stages for several years, will be a 75,000-square-foot, four story building dedicated to Oklahoma artists and their impact on popular culture.
Bond proposals, especially for museums, have faced fierce resistance from a growing group of conservative lawmakers opposed to the idea of adding to state debt. Last year, a proposed $20 million bond issue to fund the museum narrowly passed the Senate before getting derailed in the House.
It'll likely be the same this year in the House, where Republicans now enjoy a 72-29 advantage. But Democrats also have said they will refuse to support any bond issue.
But supporters of the museum gathered at Tuesday's news conference said they were confident they would have support from lawmakers who realize the economic and social importance the museum could have in northeastern Oklahoma and the entire state.
"This is not just a Tulsa museum; this is not just a historical society museum," said Bob Blackburn, executive director of the state's historical society. "This will represent the creativity across the state."
Mike Neal, president and CEO of the Tulsa Regional Chamber, said 700 jobs would be created over the four years it would take to build the museum. He also said museum and parking garage would generate $3.7 million in sales tax alone.
Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett said Russell's music put Tulsa on the map.
"You gave us relevancy at the time, Leon, when we didn't have any as far as a music scene," Bartlett said.
Capitol Correspondent Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.