TU and Gilcrease Museum partnership lays groundwork for transformation ahead

September 18, 2019

Casting a vision toward a future of limitless possibilities, The University of Tulsa and Gilcrease Museum formed a partnership in 2008 that laid the groundwork for a reimagined visitor experience now on the horizon.

The historic agreement took place under the leadership of Kathy Taylor, then-mayor of the City of Tulsa, Steadman Upham, then-president of TU, and Dale McNamara, then-chair of the Gilcrease Board of Trustees, and made TU the managing partner of the Gilcrease Collection on behalf of the City of Tulsa.

During the past 12 years, the partnership has rewarded the museum, university and city with groundbreaking exhibits, academic endeavors and a state-of-the-art research center that attracts scholars from around the world.

Celebrated milestones expand Gilcrease audiences

The partnership has been marked by a series of milestones, beginning with the 101 Ranch: The Real Wild West exhibition in July 2008. Comprising more than 3,700 rare photographs, posters, costumes and firearms once used in “Miller Brothers’ Real Wild West,” a show featuring cowboys from the famed 101 Ranch in Ponca City, the exhibition kick-started a decade of diverse exhibitions at Gilcrease. In recent years, Gilcrease has added more contemporary traveling exhibitions to expand its audiences.

Gilcrease staff and TU faculty collaborated to launch a Master of Arts in Museum Science & Management. The graduate program offers in-depth opportunities to specialize in the curation, care and exhibition of American art, archaeology, ethnology and archives. The program continues to provide not only a new field of study for TU students, but also is helping to create the next generation of museum leaders.

In 2014, the 25,000-square-foot Helmerich Center for American Research opened on the Gilcrease campus. Housing the Gilcrease Library and Archive, the center includes a digitization lab and conservation lab outfitted with the latest in technologically advanced equipment. With scholars from around the world utilizing the facility, the center has continued to elevate the museum’s reputation and allowed Gilcrease to bring the art and history of the Americas to a global audience. In 2016, TU and the George Kaiser Family Foundation announced that the Bob Dylan Archive, containing more than 6,000 manuscripts, handwritten lyrics, recordings and other memorabilia, would be housed at the Helmerich Center.

Gilcrease launched its online collections database in 2016, which features more than 25,000 items from the art, anthropology and archival collections. Patrons can search the digitized collection via a robust software, placing Gilcrease among the world’s leaders in multidisciplinary institutions bringing its collections online.

Transformative expansion opens limitless opportunities

In the initial partnership agreement, the life of the TU-Gilcrease management was 10 years, ending June 30, 2018. In 2014, then-Mayor Dewey Bartlett and Upham extended this agreement to 2028.

Later that same year, then-City Councilor G.T. Bynum encouraged TU leadership and members of the Gilcrease National Advisory Board to make a proposal for the 2016 Vision vote that would include a “significant commitment” for Tulsa’s most valuable asset, Gilcrease Museum. As the city went through a lengthy public process to finalize its list of Vision projects, Bynum’s leadership along with support from fellow councilors was instrumental in the successful inclusion of Gilcrease Museum in the city-wide Vision package. The $65 million capital expansion project will fund a major expansion and remodel. In conjunction with Vision Tulsa, TU launched The Campaign for Gilcrease, a $50 million endowment campaign for operations of the museum.

In 2017, Susan Neal was named executive director of Gilcrease. With more than 30 years of experience in management, government and community relations, Neal previously served as the museum’s chief operating officer and served two terms as the interim director. As executive director, she is poised to lead Gilcrease through the expansion and will work with museum staff, TU and the city administrations to position Gilcrease for decades of future success.

“Thanks to past leaders whose vision created this partnership, and to Mayor G.T. Bynum and TU President Gerard Clancy, Gilcrease is preparing for a re-imagined future that will ensure the partnership will continue to thrive,” said Neal. “This renovation and expansion will create new opportunities to connect Tulsans and all visitors through art, history and the timeless relevance of this extraordinary collection.”

Local partnership with global reach

Bynum has commended the university for dedicating its efforts to streamlining museum operations and leveraging its nationally recognized academic expertise in Western American history, art history, anthropology and archaeology. “TU has served as a faithful steward of the museum and its incomparable collections,” said Bynum. “As mayor of Tulsa, I greatly appreciate our partnership with TU and am thankful for its amazing oversight of this treasured museum. TU’s work throughout the years has made Gilcrease a desired destination for art lovers around the country.”

With the expansion on the horizon, TU’s efforts to further strengthen the museum will include community outreach initiatives, new scholarly endeavors and the completion of The Campaign for Gilcrease to ensure a first-class experience for future generations. “I am excited for the new opportunities this extensive renovation will bring to our faculty, alumni and students as well as academics from around the world,” said Clancy. “With decades of additional milestones to come, TU is excited about furthering Gilcrease as a cultural resource for the city and as a destination for tourists worldwide.”