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Bob Dylan Center explores his creative process

May 10, 2022

The center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is dedicated to the cultural significance of the elusive songwriter, and houses over 100,000 items from the musician's archives.

A series of screens showing the same photo of Bob Dylan wearing sunglasses.
The center includes elaborate multimedia installations dedicated to the songs 'Tangled Up in Blue' and 'Jokerman'Image: Bob Dylan Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma

In 2016, the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, acquired truckloads of photos, papers and recordings which belonged to singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. The Bob Dylan archive is estimated to be worth up to $60 million (€57 million).

At the time, many people wondered why one of the richest families in the US had bought such a large part of Dylan's estate. It was not until 2021 that GKFF announced that large parts of Dylan's legacy would be on display at the Bob Dylan Center, which opens on May 10.

People walk in front of an industrial-era building now called the Bob Dylan Center, with a mural painting of Bob Dylan.
The museum is located in the former Tulsa Paper FactoryImage: Bob Dylan Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma

'Casual hum of the heartland'

The fact that the new museum opens in Oklahoma's second-largest city, Tulsa, is fine with Bob Dylan, who hails from Minnesota. In an interview last month with Vanity Fair, the octogenarian said "there's more vibrations on the coasts, for sure," but added that being from Minnesota, he likes "the casual hum of the heartland.”

The three-story Bob Dylan Center showcases more than 100,000 items Bob Dylan owned — or created — over the course of seven decades.

They include handwritten lyrics to some of his greatest songs, previously unreleased recordings, photographs, films and artworks.

A notebook filled with handwritten notes.
The archives are a treasure trove for Dylan fans who want to better understand his songwriting processImage: Bob Dylan Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Unique collection

The museum website says the exhibition is "dedicated to the study and appreciation of renowned American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan and his cultural significance."

A multimedia installation portrays Dylan's life, from his childhood in Minnesota to becoming a world-famous folk musician. In a reconstructed studio, visitors can experience what it feels like to make a record.

A movie theater at the Bob Dylan Center will present films which either feature Dylan as an actor or his music as part of the soundtrack, as well as documentaries. Classics include Martin Scorsese's Dylan biography "No Direction Home" (2005), D. A. Pennebaker's documentary "Don't Look Back," which follows Dylan's 1965 UK tour, and Sam Peckinpah's feature film "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" (1973), for which Dylan composed the score and songs and in which he played a role.

A man looks at a wall of exhibits, documents and photos dedicated to Bob Dylan.
Steven Jenkins, director of the Bob Dylan Center, amid a section of the new museum Image: Sue Ogrocki/AP/picture alliance

Museum for a living legend

Oil billionaire George Kaiser, one of America's richest and most significant philanthropists, is the museum's patron. His fortune is estimated at just under $8 billion, which according to Forbes makes him one of the 50 richest Americans. A large part of his fortune goes to the George Kaiser Family Foundation.

Six years before the GKFF bought the Dylan archive, it acquired Woody Guthrie memorabilia, and in 2013 opened the Woody Guthrie Center dedicated to the folk singer, not far from where the Bob Dylan Center now stands. Bob Dylan is bound to be pleased, as he often said Guthrie had a formative musical influence on him.

A series of frames black-and-white photos as well as a life-size color photo of Bob Dylan with his arms raised.
The Bob Dylan archives are estimated to be worth up to $60 millionImage: Bob Dylan Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma

In the course of his unique career, Dylan has sold more than 125 million records worldwide, written some of the most popular songs of the 20th century and received 11 Grammy Awards, the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

'Musical inspiration'

Patti Smith, Elvis Costello and Mavis Staples gave concerts performed at the center for a series of festive events ahead of its opening on May 10. All three have named Bob Dylan as a musical inspiration.

Dylan won't be at the opening in person. Instead, a five-meter-high metal sculpture, designed and built by Dylan himself in his studio, will be displayed at the entrance to the museum.


This article was originally written in German.