Establishing the Art Museum of the Future: Gilcrease Museum Charts the Way
G&A President & Founder, Patrick Gallagher, shares his vision for the upcoming Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The Gilcrease Museum represents one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of art and artifacts of the American West. As a museum planner and designer working in the field for over 30 years, Gilcrease represents not just a new project for me; it’s a once-in-a-career opportunity to establish the art museum of the future.
G&A has partnered with Gilcrease Museum since the beginning, first with a strategic master plan and interpretive strategy, then to manage the architecture-selection process, and now we are entering the interpretive and experience design phase. Over the last two years, we have worked with an extremely talented team of curators and designers to think critically about what it means to be a museum for the next generation. How can we take a collection as diverse and as extensive as Gilcrease’s and create an entirely new language for interaction and engagement?
It is my firm belief that each visitor coming to Gilcrease is uniquely and distinctly different. Visitors are looking for a personal connection that will open their hearts and minds to innovative ideas and new forms of engagement. At Gilcrease, we are creating a visitor model that allows people to experience emotional storytelling in a profound way. We have the chance to use this collection to create a voice of engagement and form a distinct lens through which people understand our history and how it’s been interpreted through the arts.
While it is critical to interpret the often-complex stories of America’s heritage, this new museum is committed to creating an experience that uses the past to shine a light on our current communities, people, and events. Rather than only looking back, we will offer the chance for young people—and, really, all people—to relate to these stories and the greater context they hold within today’s world.
By focusing the lens on three primary themes—Our American Landscape, Identities and Communities, and Encounters and Interactions—the collections themselves will tell the stories of our history and establish connections and relevance to our lives today. Think of it as a beautiful marriage between art and history.
- The American Landscape: Our beautiful, complicated, fragile awestruck relationship with this vast place
- Identities and Communities: Our American Identities are revealed through the experiences we have within our own country, among our cultural groups, and through interactions within our communities.
- Encounters and Interactions: Disparate cultures, communities, and groups interact expand and contract as each seeks to find a place in the evolving story of America.
These powerful themes will allow the museum to speak to the most diverse national and international audiences—through stories that capture each visitor, no matter their personal perspective.
Nowhere in this country is a museum taking such a bold step to redefine the guest experience. Gilcrease is using new media in careful balance with the collections to make an experience that is multi-dimensional, multi-layered in its content, and allows people to be extremely selective in how they chose to interact and engage with the collection. Down the line, this will form the basis for a new virtual museum where Gilcrease can engage audiences beyond Tulsa and across the globe.
We played an integral role in the architect selection process to help create an inside-out approach to the design, ensuring a true story-led, purpose-built structure will soon house the new Gilcrease Museum. Over 65 renowned architectural firms expressed interest in participating in Gilcrease redesign. The field narrowed to 32 firms who were invited to submit RFQ’s and then eventually eight firms were invited to submit an RFP. We consistently heard praise for such an exciting vision and, without pause, we heard: “we must work on this project.” Ultimately, SmithGroup Architects of Washington, DC, and 1Architecture of Tulsa have been selected to design this $75 million project. We are thrilled to partner with them as we embark on this next phase of design and development.
I know, someday soon, the museum industry is going to look to Gilcrease Museum as the standard for best practice and best visitor experience, setting a vision for the future. In the words of Gilcrease Museum Executive Director, Susan Neal, “We want to present Gilcrease for what it is …a gateway to and celebration of the human spirit, the evolution of our better selves and what can unlock: a new future for our visitors, our community and our city as a great cultural destination and experience.”
I already see the strokes on that blank canvas coming into focus.
This project recently entered into the Design Development phase. Stay tuned as we share more about this upcoming project.