Meet the 800th Blue Star Museum!
A display wall in the main gallery at the American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy American Banjo Museum
Last week we were delighted to discover that Oklahoma City’s American Banjo Museum was not only the 800th museum to join the Blue Star Museums program but they were also the NEA’s 1,000th Twitter follower! What better way to celebrate that double distinction than to have Rocco literally surprise Executive Director Johnny Baier with a phone call. As you can see from the excerpt below—it was a match made in heaven!
ROCCO LANDESMAN: Hi, this is Rocco Landesman. I’m chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Thanks for taking the call. This may be a surprise to hear from me—maybe out of left field—but it turns out you have a couple of distinctions. One is that you are the 800th museum to sign up for our Blue Star Museums initiative with the military servicemen and women, which is a great milestone for us. You’re also the 1,000th follower of the NEA Twitter feed, which is, I guess, not a historic event, but a kind of marker. And most important to me, you’re in Oklahoma City, which is not far that from Erick, Oklahoma, where Roger Miller grew up. So I wanted to congratulate you on everything, and just tell you I’m glad you’re there and doing the work you’re doing.
JOHNNY BAIER: Well thank you very much, what a nice call. We sincerely appreciate it. We were kind of late in getting in the Blue Star program, but I’m glad we were able to tag onto it.
LANDESMAN: Well, I think it’s all happened so fast that being late isn’t really late, this has all come together so quickly.
BAIER: Great. So you’re based in Washington?
LANDESMAN: Yes, I’m based in Washington. I’ve been on the job since August and sort of finding my way through the thickets here. But my own career is very much rooted in country music. I was a theatrical producer. And my first show was Big River, based on Huckleberry Finn, and had music and lyrics by Roger Miller. In fact, it’s amazing to me that if you drive from Oklahoma City to Erick, there’s not only Roger Miller and Sheb Wooley, but it’s where Garth Brooks is from, and Jimmy Webb. I don’t know what’s in the water out there, but it’s pretty great.
BAIER: It really is the musical, how do you want to say, heritage.
LANDESMAN: It really is.
BAIER: And just the culture here, it’s ongoing, that’s what’s kind of interesting about it. It just goes through at least modern pop music. There seems to be some really strong Oklahoma roots in all of the areas.
LANDESMAN: There’s no doubt about it, and of course you’re there with banjo music which is right in the heart of it, which I think is great.
BAIER: Well we’re thrilled to be here. We just opened this facility in September having been in a smaller museum since 1998. We had a smaller museum up in Guthrie, about 35 miles north of here. We had the opportunity and an angel benefactor help us get to open this facility here in downtown Oklahoma City in the heart of the arts and entertainment district.
LANDESMAN: That’s great. You’ll get a lot more traffic that way. I would love to get out and see your museum myself at some point. For me it would be a fun thing.
BAIER: Well, you’d probably be a little bit surprised at the level of artistry and decoration. We present [our instruments] as visual art as much aural art. The majority of the collection is from the jazz age of the 20s and 30s. Prior to sound film and television, people went in person to experience the entertainment. And this instrument, coincidentally, at that point in time, was kind of like the electric guitar of today. It was the instrument associated with pop music. So we’re able to create some awareness of the significance of the banjo’s evolution and the collection.
Visit the American Banjo Museum website to learn more about its collection and upcoming events such as Saturday afternoon’s live banjo performance.
And don’t forget to check out the Blue Star Museums page to find out which museums are participating near you.