Recounting my experience opening the new art museum

Someone asked me ‘are you just swamped with the 10th anniversary celebrations for the Oklahoma City Museum of Art this weekend?’ My thoughts are ‘no, not like that first year.’ It was

insanity! We had no time to journal what we were going through but on the first year anniversary, I conned a variety of people involved in the opening, including the staff, the construction managers, the architect, board members and even family members of the staff who helped. I’m sooo glad I did that! Some of these people who participated aren’t with us anymore. They moved on- some of the country, one even in heaven.

You can read the entire booklet by clicking here.

Leslie A. Spears, Communications Manager (2000 to present)

Opening day of the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Saturday, March 16, 2002. You can see my reflection in the corner taking photos

I remember the ground breaking. I helped get the ceremonial gold shovels for Christen (Conger). I was working at the Greater OKC Chamber, but I was so excited for the Museum of Art to be moving downtown. I took photos that ran in the Chamber’s newsletter (The Point!). I also sent them to Christen, and to this day I use those photos. I remember having to use the digital camera flash to find my way through the nasty old Centre Theatre. Can’t find those pictures!

When Carolyn (Hill) hired me, I was really sad to leave the downtown area to work at the Fairgrounds. I made due. Hubble (Pomeranian dog I eventually adopted), Carolyn, Jim (Eastep) and Christen helped me make it through that time. I think back to that last day at the Fairgrounds and the moving truck photo. There were quite a few events going on. We needed someone totake the group photo. There was this girl with many pierced body parts that whom we asked. I thought how fitting for our last day here. No crying on that day.

The first day in the new place I remember walking the plank to get in and being greeted by a transvestite security guard. “She” was so nice and offered a warm smile that made me feel welcome. I was confused on what the hard-hat areas were, especially since the theater lobby was about the last section to get done but we had to go through it to get to our offices. I was frustrated. I felt like a child being told not to go here and touch this or that. I was dying that we couldn’t go in the galleries. Jim came back from going on a tour, and I was feeling left out. Finally, Carolyn took me over and I was just blown away. How about all those fire alarms being tested? Ugh! The headaches!

Climbing stairs! Walking all over the building! Certain nay-sayers would comment, ‘are you sure you’re going to open on time? It doesn’t look like it.’ The times I went to Carolyn – ‘are you sure we’re going to open on time?’ She gave me a stern look and said, ‘tell them—see you on the 14th’.  And we did see them. I remember the hard hat shuffles. I decorated my hard hat with “Museum Princess.” The problem with that was when my hat ended up on a man’s head he would get teased by construction staff. Poor Frank Hill. Stacey Bailey had to laugh when he saw it on him.

On the morning of the members’ preview I arranged to do a KWTV live shot at 7:00 a.m. I left the evening before just as the fences were coming down. It was still a construction zone. Of course that was the night that almost everyone stayed late to dust, clean, vacuum. I didn’t get that memo! When I arrived early the next morning and walked in, and I was freaked out. There was this beautiful museum – so clean. No dust. No construction zone. There was Stacey Bailey … his eyes bloodshot red. He couldn’t even talk. Then he just vanished – for a week I swear.  I wanted to say to the KWTV morning show crew – “I’m in such a state of shock I could cry.” But because I was in shock I didn’t know what to say.

I had the Chihuly media walk in place. Dale did such an excellent job. I made many great friends with the media because of that walk. The donors’ preview was exhausting. All those people wanting that hot ticket. All the calls Jim was getting. I thought, ‘if I wasn’t on staff, I would be doing the same thing. I’m running into a bunch of me’s and I hate me!’ I wanted to look so perfect but by the time 6:00 p.m. hit, and after the early morning interview I was wiped out. People kept telling me ‘you need to put lipstick on.’ The next morning I found several notes on my desk by people who had taken a tour of the offices. It was sweet.

On opening day to the public I was walking in with Carolyn. Jim put his head out the door and said, ‘I think we’re getting all of Oklahoma City here today based on the calls we’re getting.’ And we did. I positioned myself with the camera at the top of the stairs, second level (see photo). Matt Leininger was directly across the way looking down, waiting anxiously too, I could tell. With everyone in their particular place, the doors at the atrium opened. I wanted to cry. I did cry. I wondered what Matt was thinking. The public was in and that was the bottom line. It was for them, and they were receiving the new building with such joy. I loved how full the Education Center was. I thought, ‘big deal – Tupper the Clown,’ but he was a big deal. The kids loved him. And with all the people the media followed. I had every television station out. Then at the end of both days I did my traditional obnoxious camera thing – I forced everyone to pose for a group photo around the Chihuly. Usually I make people mad when I do that but I’m so glad I did. That was such a memory to capture.


2 thoughts on “Recounting my experience opening the new art museum

  1. I remember that Chihuly tour like it was yesterday and still have the raw video of it.
    It was so great to have been at the Fairgrounds shooting the Linda McCartney Exhibit a few months/year (?) prior to the opening. It made me appreciate the L-E-A-P to the 21st Century that Carolyn Hill ensured our city’s art museum took!! It is still one of my favorite places.
    When out of towners come to visit, I always take them (with such pride) to the OKCMOA!
    It was the first museum I joined as a “member”. I may go a month or so with a lapsed membership every now and again, but I always come back because I can’t miss an exhibit!! (Or the discount in the gift shop.)
    My kids (one of who is the same age as the Museum) take such pride and ownership in it, which I thoroughly love and encourage. They have been up close to so many masterpieces without leaving their hometown; Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, Picasso, Margret Burke White, The WPA, Andy Warhol, George Nelson, Roman Art, and so much more. Plus just last month three generations of my family watched a silent film on the big screen together in the Nobel Theater!
    My daughter, the visual artist, has already informed me one day she too will have and exhibit at the OKC MOA.
    My families appreciation of the Masters of the Art World is in large part thanks to you, Carolyn, Brian, Jim, Hardy, Allison, and Sydney (who is always at that desk!) And for that I will be eternally grateful.
    Thanks for 10 great years. ~Mickie

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