Big Indian coming to Tulsa?


There's a press conference tomorrow at 2:30 at the Central Library with sculptor Shan Gray, and it's almost certainly going to be to announce that the monumental statue "The American" will be built in Tulsa.

Where in Tulsa remains an open question, with some contending for the Osage Hills, some for just north of downtown, some for the west bank of the River. Urban Tulsa this week has a list of proposed sites.

Barry Friedman of Urban Tulsa also takes a closer look at the finances for the project and its expected economic impact to the city.

Surprising some, was not that the projectís teamís inflated the economic impactópublicists and marketing people have been known to do thatóbut that Tulsa city officials and their mouthpiece daily paper failed to publically question the numbers. Further, no official wondered whether the artist, who heretofore hadnít designed anything taller than 18 feet, can even bring the 176-foot American to fruition.

Barry's got it backwards: Some city officials are the mouthpiece for the Tulsa Whirled and the elite group it represents, not the other way around. But it's heartening to see some skepticism applied to economic impact numbers and big dreams.

But it's amusing: Here's an attraction that will be privately funded -- built for profit, as a matter of fact, with no government funds -- and Urban Tulsa is concerned about accurate numbers for the return on investment in terms of increased tax revenues. Last year we were talking about raising taxes by a billion dollars, but I don't recall much skepticism about the promises made by the "Myopia 2025" promoters. And those of us who called attention to inflated claims were condemned as kneejerk naysayers.

Even though it would be built for profit, this statue would be a gift to the city, all the more because we won't pay to build it or maintain it. I don't believe it will be a destination for tourists by itself -- an attraction that will draw people here from around the country and the world. Instead, it would help our tourism industry by creating a symbol for the city that identifies us worldwide as the capital city of Indian Territory. The message would be: If you want to experience Indian history and culture, Tulsa should be your home base for exploring. Fly into Tulsa, see the statue, visit Gilcrease Museum and the Native American cultural center, take day trips to Tahlequah, Muskogee, Okmulgee, Claremore, and Pawhuska.

The Chamber of Commerce, which includes the Convention and Visitors Bureau, funded by hotel tax dollars, has never seemed comfortable with promoting Tulsa's Indian heritage. Instead, their materials focus on high culture -- Philbrook, the Ballet, the Opera, upscale shopping at Utica Square. These are all wonderful things for our quality of life, but it doesn't make us distinctive. Visitors are interested in the things that make Tulsa different -- Route 66, Indians, cowboys, oil, tornados, Oral Roberts, and Kenneth Hagin. Those are the things that bring in Germans and Brits, Norwegians and Japanese. And all these things make certain elite folks cringe. There's a certain adolescent quality to this attitude -- the desire to be like every other city, rather than celebrating our unique history and culture.

For further reading, here are two articles from last week's Urban Tulsa, one by David Jones (who also recalls the Big Hat once proposed for the Williams Center Green) and Barry Friedman.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 24, 2004 11:13 PM.

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