TU Alumnus Fuels Growth of Tulsa’s Art Scene

Over the years, the Tulsa Arts District has blossomed into a vibrant community that attracts people from all over to appreciate the beauty of Oklahoma-grown music, art, and culture. Playing a pivotal role in Tulsa’s creative growth are graduates of The University of Tulsa, who hold major roles in showcasing the city’s beauty to residents and visitors alike.

Ryan Allen (BA ’08) is one heavily involved with the flourishing art scene. Holding dual degrees in film studies and communications, he made the most of his undergraduate years by taking advantage of the diverse campus resources that enriched his college career. For example, as part of his work-study program, Allen helped relaunch Tulsa’s nonprofit independent movie theater, Circle Cinema. Additionally, Allen’s education afforded him the flexibility to complete multiple study-abroad programs.

TU drew him, he said, because the structure of the first year gave him the time and space he needed to explore his interests and evaluate various career paths. “I was allowed the opportunity to change majors while still working toward my goals, and most importantly, I was able to discover my creative voice, which has turned out to be instrumental in my career,” Allen said.

Above all, it’s the support he found at TU that evoke his biggest sense of pride in his alma mater. “I was able to grow a strong micro-community of fellow like-minded students and life-long friends through my involvement with Habitat for Humanity, Presbyterian Leaders and Scholars, TUTV, the film studies program, and more,” Allen said. “Moreover, I met my wife at TU, which remains the most treasured gift from my time there.”

His TU path ultimately led Allen to his current role as the director of storytelling and exhibit management for the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture (OKPOP). The museum is a division of the 130-year-old Oklahoma Historical Society, which aims to share stories of Oklahoma creatives while providing opportunities for visitors to unleash their own creativity through hands-on interactive and immersive exhibits.

Bringing stories to life

As an OKPOP executive, Allen takes the helm of diverse storytelling teams: exhibits, collections, curatorial work, and education – all dedicated to crafting an unparalleled museum experience. Allen and his teams have tirelessly honed exhibit experiences and designs, climbing a mountain of curatorial work to organize and expand archives and collections.

The thoroughness of the work helps to ensure the realization of the museum’s mission: to inspire and empower new generations of artists, musicians, and storytellers to impact the world through the powerful force of creative expression by showcasing the legacy of Oklahomans and their influence on popular culture.

“We are creating something really special here in downtown Tulsa,” Allen said. “We are aiming high and developing a museum experience unlike any other – one that surprises, delights, and tells hundreds of stories to inspire our guests and encourage them to cross what we like to call ‘the creative threshold.’”

Allen and his team want to show their guests, no matter their age, that they can embrace a creative life. “As a museum, we often talk about how empathy is our true superpower,” he said. “Hopefully, our guests will be able to connect with and see themselves and their potential by learning about our countless amazing Oklahoma creatives.”

Allen says OKPOP will offer collections and archival material related to film, television, literature, comic books, music, and everything in between. Additionally, new technologies will be integrated throughout the 60,000-square-foot building to bring the stories and spaces to life.

“We’ve got some amazing stories to tell and are not afraid to have a little fun while doing so,” he said.

The museum trail

Allen said the energy in the Tulsa Arts District is growing: “We are excited to be a part of a wholly unique museum trail with our friends and neighbors at The Outsiders House Museum, the Woody Guthrie Center, the Bob Dylan Center, Greenwood Rising, The Church Studio, Tulsa Theater, The Vanguard, and more in store.”

Cain’s Ballroom, Allen explained, is OKPOP’s “artifact No. 1,” saying the museum is designed to show off and display Cain’s from multiple viewpoints and angles. “We are fortunate enough to own the Bob Wills’ Estate Collection, which is an important ‘pillar’ story for us,” he said.

The collection is one of many in OKPOP’s growing vault, which is managed by Collections Manager Emily McKenzie, who graduated from TU’s Museum Science and Management master’s program.

Staying creative

Allen’s creative pursuits expand beyond the museum as the leader of local folk-rock group Bandelier. While the band has been active for 13 years, the roots of the group actually formed 20 years ago at TU in a John Mabee Hall dorm room as well as Tyrrell Hall and Sharp Chapel.

“It was there that there I would write and perform with fellow TU friends and musicians and where many of the sounds and songs the band plays today were originally formed,” he said.

For the past 15 years, Allen has worked professionally in communications, marketing, and media fields in Tulsa with organizations like Circle Cinema, Tulsa Ballet, and Hillcrest Healthcare Systems. He has also worked as a freelance writer, videographer, and producer. Bandelier has allowed Allen to continue to pursue his creative side.

“Bandelier has provided a lot of joy in my life, and we are excited to release our sophomore album Westhope this year,” said Allen. “I’ve tried my best to stay creative and tell stories along the way no matter what I do professionally or where I might be. I am thankful to have been afforded those opportunities – all of which can be traced back to my journey at TU.”


Source: University of Tulsa