In its first year of existence, the Woody Guthrie Center has become the first Grammy Museum-affiliated facility in the United States, been the site of a photo exhibit’s world premiere and brought nearly 20,000 people closer to one of Oklahoma’s best known artists.
“We were here last year for the opening of the center and just thought it was great,” said Woody Guthrie’s niece Mary Ann Ivie, who visited the center with her husband, Gayland, on Saturday afternoon.
The couple traveled from their home in Arkansas for the center’s anniversary and said the architecture and interactive nature of the exhibits were “marvelous.”
“We’re really thrilled to be able to come back a second time,” Mary Ann Ivie said. “We promised ourselves we were going to roam around and see as much as we can.”
The center opened April 27, 2013, and wraps up its anniversary week Sunday with free performances at Guthrie Green from Parker Millsap, Samantha Crain and Jimmy LaFave, among others.
On Saturday, Guthrie fans stopped by the center to listen to programs featuring Hanson and John Fullbright, and both discussed the influence Guthrie has had on them personally and professionally.
“Without Woody, we wouldn’t have the songs we have today,” Fullbright said, addressing the public’s tendency to relate the two. “He taught me you can write a song about anything.”
The Hanson brothers agreed, telling the audience there are still songs from Guthrie they’re discovering. Isaac Hanson, vocalist and guitarist for the group, told fans “This Land” stands out as his favorite Guthrie tune, as it successfully captures the expansion of America.
“We really believe the future of music is … the constant flow of music to your fans,” singer and keyboard player Taylor Hanson said. “Our dream is to look out at our audience and see cross-generations of people.”
Saturday’s programs represented the center’s belief in the importance of educating the public about Oklahoma’s history in the arts, as well as the significance of keeping the arts in education, said executive director Deana McCloud.
About 1,000 students are already scheduled to visit the center in May, and McCloud said center organizers want to continue to draw people to the Brady Arts District and downtown Tulsa.
“The more that we have here, the better we all are,” she said. “That’s a message from Woody Guthrie. If you’re going to bring your kids to the center, we say, ‘Why don’t you stop by the Philbrook (Museum) too?’ Or ‘Why don’t you stop by a (Drillers baseball) game at ONEOK (Field)?’
“We have high hopes for the year and just want to continue bringing amazing things to Tulsa.”
For the Hanson brothers, the Woody Guthrie Center’s success so far simply demonstrates what they already knew: Tulsa has a rich artistic history and its residents have the potential to help redefine the American community.
“What’s happening in Tulsa is a combination of a whole community combining forces — local government, businesses, foundations and artists,” Taylor Hanson said. “I think the next 10 years could be a really amazing time.”