Reflections – Michael Whittington

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EMWLately, I’ve been thinking about legacy. I like to think of this as a natural process of reflecting on the past and tying to make sense of the swirling mass of contradictions that we call life. Throughout it all, loved ones, friends and colleagues are lost along the way. But, the impact upon us and upon our communities is a tangible reminder of the lives they once lived.

Cultural institutions, by virtue of being led and nurtured by visionary men and women, create their own legacies. Mostly, they go about this quietly and routinely. In my profession—museums—the act of collecting and preserving for future generations is so ingrained in our daily practice that we can sometimes forget what an important contribution we make.

In the greater Oklahoma City area, we have a profound museum legacy spanning the arts, science, and history. From around the world, multitudes visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. Unaware to many, perhaps, are the more than 600,000 objects in the archival collections documenting the bombing’s tragic and transformative impact. Long after the survivors and eyewitnesses are gone, this important legacy will continue to speak. The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum has focused its collecting on one of the great chapters of the American story. In particular, the Native American and frontier-themes objects and masterworks by notable artists such as Charles M. Russell and Frederick Remington are without parallel. Anyone privileged to go behind-the-scenes with Bob Blackburn at the Oklahoma History Center will immediately understand the fundamental role this institution has in collecting and preserving our rich and unique past.

We have two remarkable museums at our flagship university. The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art has collected broadly and importantly—especially noteworthy is the Weitzenhoffer Collection of French Impressionist paintings. The Sam Noble Museum’s millions of artifacts and specimens chart both the history of our planet and humanity itself.

At my own institution, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, our collections are a testament to the dreams of early twentieth century citizens who desired an art museum to rival the ambitions of their new city and to subsequent generations who held bold visions for the future. So, for all of us, we continue to collect, building for the future and creating an extraordinary legacy.

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