Culture , Government

Congress passes an additional $250K for Osage Nation Museum expansion

Photo caption: The Osage Nation Museum is the oldest tribally-owned museum in the United States, dedicated in 1938. CODY HAMMER/Osage News

Plans for an improved and expanded Osage Nation Museum are expected to continue after the Seventh ON Congress approved a second $250,000 appropriation for pre-design and master planning costs.

Discussions on improving and expanding the ON Museum – the oldest tribally-owned museum in the United States dedicated in 1938 – started last year as Nation officials talked with Killers of the Flower Moon author David Grann who expressed interest in fundraising efforts to build and expand the museum. In order to do so, Grann advised that the Nation would need design and expansion plans to show potential donors.

The Sixth ON Congress passed an initial $250,000 for conceptual design costs during a June 2019 special session. After receiving bids from outside companies for design works, the Executive Branch noted the design costs are more than original estimates and requested the additional $250,000 in bill ONCA 20-63 sponsored by Congressman Scott BigHorse.

“The Congress and my office agreed on an amount for planning and for months we went through a thorough bidding process nationwide and we found the best for this (museum expansion planning) is a consortium including a Tulsa architect firm,” Standing Bear told Congress on Aug. 5. “They happen to be doing (project) work for Philbrook Museum, the Gilcrease Museum, they are world-class, and we want world class for our museum expansion improvement and that amount plus the amount for a display portion totals right under $500,000 (so) we are requesting an additional $250,000.”

According to the bill, the $250,000 will be appropriated to the Nation’s Capital Asset Fund out of the Property Income Account in the Treasury “to carry out an interpretive plan, pre-design services and master planning for the Osage Nation museum expansion.”

The museum expansion discussion is also time-sensitive as plans are still underway for a KOFM film adaptation directed by Martin Scorsese to be filmed on location in Osage County starting next year, Standing Bear said. With the ongoing film buzz and readers’ interest in the book, Nation officials anticipate more tourists coming to visit the area, including the ON Museum to learn more about the Osage people. 

“We need to take advantage of this … we didn’t want to wait until September, we wanted to move now because we’ve already selected the planning team, but because there’s no money to fulfill the contract, I’m not signing the contract,” Standing Bear said, adding he and ON Museum Director Marla Redcorn-Miller believe “time is of the essence.”

Regarding museum expansion, BigHorse also noted: “Over the years, in my lifetime, I know there has been many, many families that have donated items, articles sacred to our culture to the museum and we just have not had the space to display and properly care for those items. This is something that falls into culture that is near and dear to my heart.”

Redcorn-Miller started her director post in February 2019 and most recently served as deputy director of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, N.M., as well as other institutions and has been involved with the initial discussions on expansion plans, Standing Bear said.

In an Aug. 6 Congressional Cultural committee meeting discussing the bill, Redcorn-Miller said she managed a museum project in Santa Fe and that process is similar to the museum expansion project now taking shape. “That process is similar to what we would be engaged in with the expansion and renovation of the museum and it is standard museum practice to have an interpretive plan … and also a master plan with pre-design services because what we would like to do is present a package to pre-donors and funding agencies so that they are aware of the steps we have taken and due diligence we have spent on the facility, on our vision of what we’re going to do to have a project schedule, cost estimates and an interpretive plan.”

In her previous project experience, Redcorn-Miller said she also sought competitive federal grant funding and those applications will also inquire on similar project/ master plan information as well.

Before the bill vote, BigHorse shared more history on the museum recalling it was built “during some troubling times just as we’re in now (with the COVID-19 pandemic). It was a Works Progress Administration program that was established back in the early 30s and 40s when we were coming out of the (Great Depression). There was funding there for tribes and it was Chief Fred Lookout and John Joseph Mathews that had the foresight and vision to take advantage of the earmarked monies for Native Americans under that program and we find ourselves in a similar situation – we’re putting our money back in saving and expansion of our museum … We have to have the interpretive center and the master plan and all the layout of what we want in order to present to these donors and these donors are worldwide.”

ONCA 20-63 passed unanimously on Aug. 11 and Standing Bear signed the bill into law two days later.