On May 10, Tulsa will have yet another reason to be dubbed a cultural mecca. That is the date the Bob Dylan Center will open – with over 100,000 pieces collected over several decades by the esteemed musician and his management team.
“We hope visitors will be inspired by unprecedented access to the creative process of one of America’s foremost artists,” says Steve Higgins, the center’s managing director. “They can expect never-before-seen performances and photos, rare recordings, as well as working manuscripts, correspondence and visual art. All of this will be presented to create an emotional connection, rather than a definitive explanation.”
Dylan, who was born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941, became a cultural icon in America and across the globe, first for his musical and song writing prowess, and in later years for his paintings.
According to Higgins, “Bruce Springsteen said: ‘The way that Elvis freed your body, Bob freed your mind.’”
Tourists can combine their Dylan visit with another superb collection.
“The historic connection between [Dylan and] Woody Guthrie is well documented,” says Higgins. “Of course, Guthrie was a major influence on Dylan. When Dylan first came to New York, he made a point to visit Guthrie in the hospital. It is only fitting that the Woody Guthrie Center and the Bob Dylan Center are side by side on the same block.”
Higgins continues: “Dylan elevated pop music as an art form during a time when it was rather slick and conformist. But more than anything, perhaps, Dylan’s music resonates with listeners unlike anything that came before.”
Planning for the center began in 2016 when the George Kaiser Family Foundation acquired the archive. Mark Davidson, Ph.D. – the Bob Dylan librarian and collections manager – led the effort of transporting and processing the archive.
“In 2017, we chose Seattle-based Olson Kundig as our lead design firm,” says Higgins. “London-based 59 Productions came on board as our media design firm in 2020. Jennifer Lebeau, who directed the Dylan film Trouble No More is on our creative team as well. In addition to our own small internal team, Bob Dylan’s management office has been invaluable in supporting the project.”
When asked for his personal favorite in the collection, Higgins struggles.
“There are so many treasures, from the ‘Chimes of Freedom’ manuscript, complete with cigarette burns and coffee stains on Waldorf-Astoria letterhead, to letters from ex-Beatles and U.S. presidents,” says Higgins. “One of my favorite Dylan songs is ‘Jokerman’ from the early ’80s. The manuscript consists of 17 pages, revealing the evolution of an intricate, mysterious masterpiece that managed to sound unlike anything he’d done before.”
The new center is expected to garner more visitors to the area, creating a positive economic impact for Tulsa.
“Based on the interest we’ve seen so far, we expect travelers from around the world to visit just to see the Bob Dylan Center,” says Higgins. “But Tulsa already is a city of rich, vibrant cultural importance. Tulsa continues to establish itself as a must-see destination for cultural tourists.”
Ahead of the Curve
Memberships to the center are available.
“In January, still a few months from opening its doors, the Bob Dylan Center already has members in 30 states and 12 countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Singapore and Libya,” says Higgins.