"Not the End. Just Resting.
Give Me Time.
I'll Hit 'Em Again.
Your Time Now." - Woody Guthrie
As many of you have already heard, we are happy to announce that the Woody Guthrie Archives has found a permanent home! Through a fortuitous meeting with the folks at the George Kaiser Family Foundation, the Archives will be relocating to a brand new facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2013. The building, an old warehouse which is now being renovated, will not only house the Archives, but also create an open public space for exhibits, community gatherings and events, and even some hootenannies!
A permanent home for the collection was something we had thought about for years. But it was an undertaking that we also had to admit we could never fulfill on our own. From its beginnings in 1992, we worked at unpacking, looking through, and organizing the boxes of materials, to creating a space where people could come and research, while figuring out how to fund it all, to bring the collection where it is today. That's just about 20 years of work, to the day. And it was about as much as we could handle. The task of raising the funds to go the next step is daunting. Unfortunately, we are definitely not the go-to-cocktail-party-fund-raisers types. We don't have the time, the inclination, or the wardrobe! It was clear that someone else would have to continue the story, if it was going to be continued.
The decision to transfer the collection over to our Tulsa friends was a slow and deliberate one, evolving over a long period of time. A few pressing issues had to be addressed (hello AARP!) and many avenues were explored. However, the final decision actually came about pretty organically when we first went to Tulsa to meet the crew there. For starters, the weirdest thing happened.
Many times when I've attended various "Woody" events, the electricity fails. Short blackouts, amplifiers shutting down, lights flickering. That kind of stuff. It's happened so many times, at such auspicious moments, that I often tease that Woody is probably letting us know that he's around. (Some say that spirits mischievously play with us this way. It's a fun way to look at things). I always look up and say, "Yea. OK, dad. We know you're here. Now can we get on with it?" But it was even weirder when it happened at a Bruce Springsteen show in Germany that I attended. Right before he sang a song of Woody's they lost all the power at the stadium. "OK!" I frowned at the sky. "We get it! Now let the guy do his show!" When I walked out of my first meeting with the Kaiser Foundation people, I was standing in the parking lot. Suddenly there was a huge bang. The electrical generator at the neighboring hospital had a major power outage. I had to wonder if Woody was making his biggest appearance yet. "Is this what you want?"
Over the years, we've had a few requests for the Archives from a number of places; public institutions, universities, etc. In thinking about it, I always felt that Oklahoma was calling . All the major universities where many of these kinds of collections end up, seemed a bit too "precious", too many stairs to climb. And it also seemed to me that most of the national institutions already had more than they can handle, with much of their collections sitting on basement shelves, awaiting a possible exhibit if the funding comes through. I discovered that the folks at the Kaiser Foundation are an extraordinary group of local people, working in many ways that benefit so many people. In particular, the 25 preschool centers they run bring the highest available educational facilities to so many of Tulsa's neediest. It's beyond impressive. It's visionary. I sensed I could work with these people to create something really unique.
The next day I was walking around the Brady district in downtown Tulsa. I got to meet many of the local artists who were living and working in the old warehouse spaces; violin makers, furniture makers, visual artists, punk rock musicians, et al. It felt so much like the early '60s in Soho and the East Village. I felt an easy kinship with them, as I think my father would have.
Cain's Ballroom, the home of Bob Wills and still home of so many touring artists, was just around the corner. The old Brady Theater was across the street, just off the now quiet railroad tracks where, once upon a time, iconic artists toured across the country. The history of this great old district was palpable. When I entered the Brady Theater and met with its director, I was stunned by the pictures on the wall of the caliber of artists that had played there in the early part of the 20th century; Isadora Duncan and Rudolph Serkin for starters. When I gushed how moved I was by the great history of this theater, the director surprisingly asked, "You know who they are? Not many people do!" I couldn't help but wonder, "How many great cultural figures have passed through this town" and "Why did they leave?"
Why do people like Woody Guthrie leave their hometowns? Why do talented, inspirational and visionary people have to leave for cities like New York? Why do they often say, "I couldn't grow there"? Why do some people think they alone own the American flag? Why do some people claim they're more "American" than others? Why do some people think they are uniquely qualified to pull the strings of democracy? These are many of the questions that Woody sang about in his songs, looking for his own answers. Luckily, all of these questions are presently alive and kicking, now often hotly debated in small towns and cities just like Tulsa all across the country. I think it's a good time to bring Woody's own thoughts on these topics back home. And being close to where new art and new thoughts are being born is always inspirational. To be a part of this Oklahoma "renovation" feels like being in the right place at the right time aka "grace". Or maybe just luck.
I can't predict what will happen to Woody's legacy, and I don't know what conversations or activities his homecoming will precipitate. I do know that for years there have been so many people in Oklahoma passionately working to acknowledge Woody's contributions to America's culture and soul, often against great odds; Woody's sister Mary Jo Edgmon who has tirelessly traveled around the state bringing Woody's story to school children, the folks at Okemah's WoodyFest and Greg Johnson at The Blue Door who have brought together thousands of people over the years to bask in his music, and Oklahoma musicians like the Jimmy LaFave and the Red Dirt Rangers who continue to sing his songs and have been inspired by Woody to write their own. This one's for you, guys.
Bringing Woody's life's work back to his Oklahoma Hills will, for sure, be a real adventure. But I do feel Woody would have proudly declared, "That's where I want to be, Ma. That's where I want to be."
- NORA GUTHRIE
P.S. Incase you're wondering, no, I'm not moving to Tulsa. I will, however, be working closely with the Kaiser Foundation throughout the first year to help set things up. Our main office in Mt. Kisco will remain open...business as usual.
To read more on the move...
Bound For Local Glory at Last
New York Times
by Patricia Cohen, published Dec. 27, 2011
Woody Guthrie Archives to be Moved to Tulsa; New Center Planned
by Wayne Greene, published Dec. 28, 2011