Blake Shelton is the face of new $30 million fundraising effort for Tulsa's OKPOP Museum

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The 2017 People's Sexiest Man Alive is lending his famous face to fundraising efforts to finish a new museum in his home state.

A few hours before he serenaded the sold-out crowd with his heartfelt hit ballad "Home" during his March 17 Oklahoma City tour stop, Blake Shelton agreed behind the scenes to be honorary campaign chairman for the OKPOP Foundation.

The country music superstar, television personality and Tishomingo resident is helping raise awareness about the half-finished OKPOP Museum as well as helping raise the $30 million needed to complete the Tulsa landmark for a late 2024 opening date.

“Music is my livelihood, and Oklahoma is my home — my heart. So, when I heard more about OKPOP’s mission to inspire and empower young Oklahoma musicians or artists like me, I knew I had to get involved,” Shelton said in a statement.

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Blake Shelton performs on his "Back to the Honky Tonk Tour" at the Paycom Center, Friday, March 17, 2023.
Blake Shelton performs on his "Back to the Honky Tonk Tour" at the Paycom Center, Friday, March 17, 2023.

The partnership was finalized backstage at Shelton's show at OKC's Paycom Center, with the OKPOP Foundation and Oklahoma Historical Society officially announcing the campaign this week.

"After working with Blake's team over the last several months, we were excited be able to ... meet with him face to face while he was in OKC for the show," OKPOP Executive Director Jeffrey Moore told The Oklahoman.

"There's so much talent from Oklahoma. One thing that's really interesting about Blake is how he's extended beyond music into television. ... He's one of those people much like a Will Rogers who extends beyond one form of media. That's kind of an Okie thing."

Where is the OKPOP Museum and which Oklahomans will it honor?

Initially announced in 2009, the OKPOP Museum is "dedicated to the creative spirit of Oklahoma’s people and the influence of Oklahoma artists on popular culture around the world."

Formally known as the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture, it will spotlight an array of Sooner State celebrities, from musicians including Shelton, Garth Brooks, Leon Russell, Reba McEntire and the Gap Band to stage and screen stars like Alfre Woodard, Brad Pitt, Kristin Chenoweth, Bill Hader and Olivia Munn.

Situated in the burgeoning Tulsa Arts District across the street from the legendary Cain's Ballroom, the long-awaited Oklahoma Historical Society project will tell stories of how Oklahomans have been an influential force in movies, radio, television, literature, theater, comic books and more.

"It's going to be the whole Oklahoma story. And then it's the role of Oklahoma: The musical 'Oklahoma!,' how that's been influential in the world of pop culture, or films that are filmed here, from 'Twister' to 'The Outsiders' to 'Killers of the Flower Moon' to 'Reservation Dogs,'" Moore told The Oklahoman during a 2022 tour.

The state Historical Society broke ground on the 60,000-square-foot museum in fall 2019, after receiving $25 million in bond funds from the state to build it. Construction on the three-story building's exterior was completed in 2021 — the same year that the museum was initially projected to open.

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"I delayed my retirement for two years to try to finish it, and then, of course, COVID hit," said former Oklahoma Historical Society Executive Director Bob Blackburn, who retired in January 2021. "COVID really threw a curveball at the whole project, because suddenly we couldn't meet with people. We couldn't keep the momentum going ... but it's extremely exciting to think about that place being finished, telling these stories, using its collections and honoring people like Bob Wills and Mary Kay Place."

The lights of Cain's Ballroom reflect off the glass of the OKPOP Museum building in Tulsa on Saturday, May 7, 2022.
The lights of Cain's Ballroom reflect off the glass of the OKPOP Museum building in Tulsa on Saturday, May 7, 2022.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect the OKPOP Museum's opening?

OKPOP staffers took occupancy of the building in December 2021.

"That's Phase 1, and we're calling Phase 1 the skin and bones. This is the skeleton of OKPOP," said Moore, who has been instrumental in developing the museum since its initial conception. "Phase 2 is heart and soul, and that's going to be ... what the guest is going to experience when they come in. So, that is a separate part of the project in that that's not funded by the original bond issue."

Museum staffers are trying to put the pandemic delays behind them as they work on the final stages of exhibit design in the hopes of opening before the end of next year.

The OKPOP building is pictured in Tulsa on Saturday, May 7, 2022.
The OKPOP building is pictured in Tulsa on Saturday, May 7, 2022.

Since the pandemic had such an impact on the project, the state Historical Society has been seeking American Rescue Plan Act funds to finish the museum. The City of Tulsa has committed $1 million in ARPA funds, along with an additional $2.7 million, to Phase 2. Tulsa County also has pledged $2 million in coronavirus relief funds to the museum, Moore said.

The Oklahoma Historical Society requested last year $20 million in ARPA funds from the state to complete the project, but the request was never voted on, he said. Despite a 2022 special legislative session, millions in ARPA funds the state received from the federal government have yet to be disbursed.

American Rescue Plan funds must be allocated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.

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What is left to be done before the OKPOP Museum can open?

The $30 million OKPOP Foundation campaign is intended to raise the funds needed to complete the exhibit design, construction and installation.

"We're busy working on content development and continuing to add to our oral history interview list of more than 600 interviews with Oklahoma creatives. ... Then, our team is working on a world-class experience for OKPOP," Moore said this week.

"There's no other museum in America that's quite like OKPOP in the sense that we're going to tell Oklahoma's story through its creativity and through its pop culture — and that approach resonates with people. So, we were giving tours to legislators, and we're giving tours to city and county leaders and funders. We're feeling very positive of where we are right now."

The OKPOP building is pictured in Tulsa on Saturday, May 7, 2022.
The OKPOP building is pictured in Tulsa on Saturday, May 7, 2022.

The OKPOP Foundation is the OKPOP Museum’s fundraising arm. Working with the state Historical Society, the foundation is intended to identify potential funding sources through state and federal allocations, prospective donors, corporations, grants, fellow foundations and founding memberships.

Shelton's willingness to become the face of the campaign helps highlight the global impact of the museum's mission, said OKPOP Foundation Chairman Scott Petty.

“His involvement will be the catalyst for everything the foundation has been doing behind the scenes and will ultimately bring this project to fruition," Petty said in a statement.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OKPOP Museum hopes to open in Tulsa at end of 2024 with more funds