Gilcrease Museum renovation aims to improve experience for kids and families
Since its founding in 1949, Gilcrease Museum has become one of Tulsa’s premiere cultural destinations. Determined to keep its status as a local treasure, the museum is set to undergo a $75 million renovation – the largest one yet in the institution’s 70-year history.
An architect is expected to be hired by July, with designs taking anywhere from 18 months to two years to complete. Following that, construction itself will likely take another two years. 2023 just can’t get here fast enough, right?
“What’s important is how we treat our visitor experience, from the time they arrive up until when they leave,” said Susan Neal, executive director at Gilcrease Museum. “As we change the museum itself, our whole brand – including our website – must reflect that.”
The renovation will boast a dedicated education and programming space for both children and lifelong learners.
“Considering that our event space hasn’t been updated since 1987, we want an area that feels up-to-date and modern for the community,” Neal said. “Any center or museum that is going to continue to be a vital destination needs to be re-invested in.”
Throughout this past decade, especially, technology has changed the way in which people learn and communicate with one another. As a result, Neal hopes to accommodate this new era of students.
“It’s as relevant today as when it was first brought together,” she said. “We need to tell stories that are important to today’s generation.”
This educational space is said to be big enough to host a large class, as well as movable walls to divide the area up by age.
“Gilcrease is Tulsa’s most valuable asset, as we have visitors from around the world,” Neal said. “We want this to be a place where people not only learn, but also feel welcome.”
To that end, the executive director expressed her excitement about engaging people at all corners of the community.
“Although the renovation is still early in its development, our programs are already starting to reflect that theme,” she said. “We’ve definitely been getting a more diverse range of visitors.”
For students specifically, museums are more than just an excuse to go on a field trip – they bring something to the educational process that a classroom simply can’t provide.
“It’s more fun to learn about history when you see a piece of it firsthand, rather than reading about it in a textbook,” Neal said. “It’s not just our Tulsa story or even just Oklahoma history – we’ve got 12,000 years of history across all of North America.”
Similarly, Neal discussed her desire for people to see Gilcrease as more than just the “cowboy museum.”
“We will always make opportunities to showcase our Western collection, but Gilcrease goes way beyond that,” she said. “It covers a wide, rich timespan – geographically, we’ve got stuff from the Panama all the way to the Arctic, which allows us to tell broader stories about our changing America.”
With some of the renovation’s finer details still be ironed out, the specifics of the museum’s day-to-day operations throughout this process are still unclear.
“We may have schematics by the end of this year, but there’s a chance that – at some point throughout all of this – we’ll have to close down for a few months,” Neal said. “We’re getting impatient, too, because we’re just so excited to see these changes come to fruition! Trust me, though – it’ll be worth the wait.”