TULSA — In his 1961 song “Hard Times In New York Town,” Bob Dylan briefly references the home state of one of his major musical influences, Oklahoma native Woody Guthrie:
I’ll take all the smog in Cal-i-for-ne-ay
‘N’ every bit of dust in the Oklahoma plains
‘N’ the dirt in the caves of the Rocky Mountain mines
It’s all much cleaner than the New York kind
And it’s hard times in the city
Livin’ down in New York town
Now, Oklahoma is about to become the official home of more than 100,000 items spanning Dylan’s life and career, from handwritten lyric manuscripts and previously unreleased recordings to musical instruments and visual artworks.
Located in Tulsa’s burgeoning arts district near the Woody Guthrie Center, the long-awaited Bob Dylan Center will open to the public May 10. The new center’s Grand Opening Celebration will include a trio of starry concerts at Tulsa’s historic Cain’s Ballroom, plus the debut of exhibitions and artwork that will provide insight into the music legend’s creative processes.
Here’s what we know about the Bob Dylan Center and its grand opening:
Why is the Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa?
Both the Bob Dylan Center and Woody Guthrie Center operate under the auspices of the American Song Archives, a project of the Tulsa-based George Kaiser Family Foundation. The foundation acquired Dylan’s vast archives in 2016 and Guthrie’s in 2010.
The Woody Guthrie Center opened in 2013, and the Bob Dylan Center is situated just a few steps away.
Located in the former Tulsa Paper Factory, the center will be the primary public venue for the Bob Dylan Archive collection. It will preserve, curate and exhibit the vast collection of rare photographs, memorabilia, personal effects and other items spanning Dylan’s influential 60-year career.
American Song Archives Managing Director Steve Higgins said in a statement that the center’s programs and exhibits will “explore the creative process and inspire the next generations of artists.”
Over the course of his groundbreaking career, Dylan has sold more than 125 million records around the world, penned some of the most popular songs of the 20th century and received 11 Grammy Awards, the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
That’s probably why Smithsonian Magazine included the Bob Dylan Center on its global list of “The Most Anticipated Museum Openings of 2022.”
A Minnesota native, the enigmatic Dylan hasn’t had much to say publicly about the center, apart from a statement released in 2016 when it was first announced:
“I’m glad that my archives, which have been collected all these years, have finally found a home and are to be included with the works of Woody Guthrie and especially alongside all the valuable artifacts from the Native American Nations. To me, it makes a lot of sense and it’s a great honor,” Dylan said then.
Who has been involved in creating the Bob Dylan Center?
Designed by acclaimed Seattle-based architectural and exhibit design firm Olson Kundig, the center’s two-story façade features a mural of a 1966 photograph of Dylan, taken by respected photographer Jerry Schatzberg.
Based in London and New York, 59 Productions — an award-winning design studio and production company that has worked on high-profile projects ranging from the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games to the record-breaking “David Bowie Is” exhibition — is collaborating with Olson Kundig on exhibition design and media development for the center.
The US/Australian technology company Art Processors has devised the cutting-edge immersive audio aspect of the center’s interactive experiences.
In April, Steven Jenkins was named the Bob Dylan Center’s director, putting him at the helm of the new attraction’s exhibits, public programming and daily operations. A lifelong Dylan fan, Jenkins recently relocated to Tulsa after working for three decades in the nonprofit sector in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s previously held leadership positions with the University of California Press, San Francisco International Film Festival, Ansel Adams Center for Photography and more.
“As an avid listener and fascinated follower of Dylan’s every surprising and illuminating turn, his work has brought me a lifetime of aesthetic pleasures, confounding challenges and profound joy. I am honored and thrilled to take on this dream job,” Jenkins said in a statement.
Earlier this year, Tulsa native and trailblazing US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo was named the Bob Dylan Center’s first artist in residence. A multifaceted Muscogee writer, musician and performer, Harjo just wrapped up her rare third term as US Poet Laureate and has been named to a six-year appointment as the center’s artist in residence.
Recently honored as an Oklahoma Cultural Treasure, Harjo was the country’s first Native American US Poet Laureate as well as the nation’s first poet laureate from Oklahoma. At the Bob Dylan Center, she will present educational programs and live performances, along with curating special exhibitions.
“When Bob Dylan opened stepped forward and made his path of song making, poetry, and storytelling, a path that lit a generation, he a creative door for others to find their way to fresh invention and imagining. I am one of those who followed,” Harjo said in a January statement.
“My residency will allow this legacy to be extended to the community, to encourage and share creativity. I am honored to be part of this new venture.”
Harjo is planning to attend the center’s grand opening, according to a spokesman, while Dylan is not.
What exhibits will be featured at the new center?
The 29,000-square-foot Bob Dylan Center will feature 16 rotating exhibits, the more than 5,000-square-foot archive, a 55-seat screening room and more. The new museum’s centerpiece is said to be a permanent exhibit on the life and work of its namesake icon.
It was recently revealed that a 16-foot-tall metal sculpture, designed and built by Dylan at his Black Buffalo Artworks studio, will adorn the center’s internal entrance.
Among the exhibits visitors can expect when the attraction opens are “The Church Studio Control Room,” which will enable visitors to experience hands-on the mixing of a rotating selection of Dylan’s recordings. The first two will be “I Want You,” from the icon’s 1966 album “Blonde On Blonde,” and “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” from Dylan’s soundtrack to the 1973 film “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.” Inspired and sponsored by Tulsa’s legendary Church Studio, the exhibit will also share the stories behind the recording of several classic Dylan songs, including “Like A Rolling Stone.”
The museum will also feature “The Columbia Records Gallery,” a deep dive into some of the troubadour’s seminal songs, starting with “Chimes of Freedom,” “Like A Rolling Stone,” “Jokerman,” “Not Dark Yet,” “Tangled.” Up In Blue” and “The Man In Me.”
Who will be performing leading up to the grand opening?
Leading up to the center’s May 10 public opening, three celebrated musical luminaries who have cited Dylan as a particular influence on their work will perform in concert at Cain’s Ballroom.
Gospel, soul and blues legend Mavis Staples will play a special show May 5 only for Bob Dylan Center founding members.
“Punk Poet Laureate” Patti Smith will perform with her band May 6 at Cain’s, while Grammy winner Elvis Costello & The Imposters will play May 7 at the beloved Tulsa venue. Both those shows are open to the public. For tickets and information, go to https://www.cainsballroom.com.
How to visit the Bob Dylan Center?
After the May 10 grand opening, Bob Dylan Center hours will be 10 am to 6 pm Wednesday-Sunday.
Admission is $12 for adults; $10 for seniors (55 and older), veterans and students (18 and older with ID); and free for children (17 and younger) and kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers.
Tickets to the center — along with dual tickets to the Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie centers — are available online at https://bobdylancenter.com/visit.
Memberships, including founding memberships, are for sale at https://bobdylancenter.com/support/memberships.
For more information, go to https://bobdylancenter.com.