Ken Busby Advocates Tulsa, Rt. 66 ‘Experience’
By EMILY RAMSEY
MOTHER ROAD: In May, the Route 66 Alliance unveiled its plans to build the 44,000-square-foot Route 66 Interpretive Center at Riverside Drive and Southwest Boulevard. Above is a rendering of the building, looking northeast. The organization also announced Ken Busby as its executive director.
Ken Busby is a flurry of energy. But within that constant movement, his love for Tulsa and the arts is clearly seen. So, it was quite fitting when he was announced in May as the executive director of the Route 66 Alliance. A large part of Busby’s focus for the foreseeable future will be the 44,000-square-foot Route 66 Alliance Interpretive Center – an “experience,” not a museum, Busby says – that will highlight the Mother Road, her stories and how Tulsa has played such a large role in her history.
Greater Tulsa Reporter: Why did you want to take on this new role?
Ken Busby: I had reached a point with my position as executive director at the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa where I had accomplished everything I wanted to, and I thought, “I’m happy; I could be here forever.”
When I sat down with Route 66 Alliance Co-Founder Michael Wallis, I wasn’t expecting to be offered the job (with Route 66 Alliance). But this center will be great for the state, great for Tulsa, tourism and economic development. We can use this center to get people off the Interstate and then showcase the rest of Tulsa. How could I not be a part of that?
I was also very impressed with the team assembled for the project, including the Ross Group and Selser Schaefer Architects, who created the (Hardesty Arts Center). And then I saw the preliminary designs for the building, and I thought, “Yes, I need to be involved.”
: Your passion for Tulsa is easy to see. As a native Tulsan and Holland Hall graduate, did you always plan to remain here?
KB: I planned to finish my master’s and become a college professor, but after I earned my master’s I moved in with my grandparents to help care for my ill grandfather. Later, I wasn’t yet ready to go to graduate school so I came home to Tulsa and never left. I worked for American Airlines, Gilcrease Museum and the Tulsa Zoo before joining the Arts and Humanities Council.
I have become a champion of Oklahoma and Tulsa, specifically. Tulsa has so much that I want people to know about. Every time I bring people here who have not been to Tulsa before, they are always blown away by all that we have: whether you’re talking about arts, culture, business.
: What accomplishments, thus far, would you say you are most proud of?
KB: Most recently, I am most proud of the building and the growth that it’s helped to spur in the Brady Arts District.
Before that, during my time at Gilcrease Museum, in 1998, we brought an exhibition of the works of Thomas Moran. Moran’s paintings played a major role in inspiring the creation of the national park system. Besides Tulsa, the exhibition only went to two other places: Seattle and Washington, D.C. Tulsa was the only museum of the three to accomplish what Moran was unable to accomplish before his death: the installation of three of his paintings together on one wall: The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, The Chasm of the Colorado and Mountain of the Holy Cross.
Getting to be a part of that experience and seeing those paintings the way Moran wanted to see them was incredible. During the show’s 13 weeks, the museum saw nearly 150,000 people, which is the amount of visitors Gilcrease normally would see in a year. That show brought new attention to Tulsa.
: What is the timeline for the Route 66 Interactive Center?
KB: We began our fundraising campaign in June, which will go for one year. We need $19.5 mil-lion and have already received two pledges. We are hoping for a July 2016 groundbreaking, followed by two years of construction. We plan to open in fall 2018.
: Is there a feature in the center that you are particularly anticipating?
KB: Of the center’s 44,000 total square feet, 22,000 square feet will be devoted to the interpretive center which will offer interactive and sensory displays. For example, visitors will be able to take a virtual road trip from Chicago to Los Angeles and see the various stops that are along the way.
We want exhibits to be engaging for young and old alike. A lot of young ones don’t know the history of the Mother Road. This gives us the opportunity to talk about culture, history, geography, how the road ended up coming through Tulsa thanks to Cyrus Avery, and what the road has meant to Tulsa and this country.
For example, we have been told that Paul Marshall, who started Bama Companies, credits Route 66 with much of Bama’s early success. Marshall located the company on 11th Street and routinely traveled along the road, making deliveries to corporations.
The mixed-use center will also feature space for restaurants and retail, a drive-in movie theater on the top level of the parking garage, and a section that will extend southwest from the building, across Riverside Drive to the Arkansas River to allow visitors to better view the area’s landscape.