Mission Statement The Billboard Museum
The Billboard Museum will present a fun, educational, and immersive experience that captures the imagination by exploring the unique art and rich outdoor advertising heritage of America, starting from the late 1800s. Working with billboard and sign companies, artists, sign painters, muralists, and private collectors, the museum will collect, preserve, interpret, exhibit, educate and instill appreciation for the art of roadside advertising.
Through a program of acquisitions, loans, donations, reproductions from digital and photographic archives, and traveling exhibitions, the museum will have both permanent and temporary exhibits that chronicle various aspects of American popular culture through the years. The museum will appeal to a diverse age group, from schoolchildren to senior citizens, and entertain the casual observer through its exhibits. A research center and hands-on workshops will serve the needs of students, educators, advertising professionals, researchers, and scholars.
The Museum will also open its doors to those interested in renting out portions of the facility for events.
The Billboard Museum is utterly unique. There are museums that showcase signs and outdoor advertising, but none have billboards as their main emphasis. The development of the idea expanded its scope as time progressed. It was originally conceived as a way to showcase the vintage advertising ads and sign structures that today’s generation never will see due to a variety of factors that can be explored by exhibits. This popped up as Kathy drove Route 66, especially enjoying the older, less traveled sections where it was easy to cast the mind back to the heyday of the Route. Classic cars, pavement, and structures can be seen but the signage, including billboards, was a different story. The billboards could never come back due to changes in zoning laws. A museum seemed the only way to bring those back. The first expansion on the idea—it also being a haven for orphaned porcelain and neon signs that have historic or community value—came about due to Kathy’s involvement with the Route 66 community and discovering there is a real need to provide a location for iconic signs that would otherwise be put in the landfill or sold for scrap. The next expansion was due to seeing the increasing shift to vinyl, then digital billboards. Working at a local TV station in the early 1980s, Kathy remembered seeing a billboard being hand painted on the side of the road of Wonder Woman, the artists gleefully enhancing her bust line. The realization that the skills of hand painting and posting of paper signs were being lost weighed heavily, and she felt a need to capture the artists’ stories and techniques for future generations. The sign community was also feeling the need to somehow rescue and find a place to showcase iconic signage, with Jim Gleason heading up the effort. Kathy and Jim were introduced by the State Historic Preservation Office. So the Museum owes its support to several different communities that might otherwise simply pass it by: the Route 66 community, the billboard community, the sign community, vintage advertising collectors, and the artists and bill posters themselves.
My first exposure to Route 66 was through the TV series of the 1960s. As a pre-teen, I developed a huge crush on George Maharis. Thanks to that crush, I carried an interest in the old road, but never had a chance to explore it until the early 1990s, after the highway had been decommissioned for several years. One trip on the old road to do some videotaping for a friend’s “36 on 66” birthday party was all it took. I was hooked. This led to not only producing the “Cruisin’ OK 66” video in 1994, but joining and becoming actively involved in the Oklahoma Route 66 Association, and by extension, the national 66 movement. As stated earlier, familiarity with the needs of the Route 66 community, coupled with the vast changes in the billboard industry, triggered a deep desire to document and preserve. This is why the Billboard Museum Association was established.
We face many challenges, as we are starting from scratch. We have no big money donors, no family wealth to get us started. We have no grant writers. What we do have are a unique group of people with skills and backgrounds that complement and encourage each other. Step by step, we are laying our legal ground work—bylaws, incorporation, EIN, 501(c3) status, and the paperwork to accept donated materials. We have received several interesting signs and objects, and need to document their history. One of our volunteers is interested in helping us with that. We have been scouting for a location, even though we don’t have the funds to purchase or even lease at this point, hoping we can either persuade someone that donating the land can be an excellent tax write-off or can provide a great tourist flow and synergy into a shopping area that can cater to travelers as well as locals. Early on, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) has offered their support, which to date, has been to open the door to their vast archives housed at Duke University. Lamar Advertising’s local branch hosts our meetings, provided workshop sponsorship and printing support as well as joined our Association.
Everyone involved can see the vision. It is just a matter of getting there. We are a determined group, fueled by passion and the realization we can offer a unique visitor experience.
Creating an expanded business plan is our main next step. We have written a short business plan. To accomplish the next step, we need help. We are trying to find money for a matching grant to pay someone to do this.
Our hope is to reach out to the billboard and sign communities for sponsorships as well as large gifts. Once land and initial funding is acquired, we want to build an outdoor driving loop, which chronicles the development and styles of billboards and their ads as well as outdoor advertising from the mid 1800s through at least the 1960s, if not on into today. This would get us on the tourist map, and can start providing some income, with the hope we can actually sell billboard space in as well as rent it out for special events. The indoor structure with its Route 66 Main Street at dusk exhibit, combined with other halls for permanent and traveling exhibits would follow.
In talking to the American Sign Museum in Ohio, the closest comparable museum to what we are trying to do and who has been encouraging us, we realize this will be an expensive project. We will need the generous support of billboard and sign companies, as well as those who love vintage advertising. We will also need to be able to rent out both indoor and outdoor space in order to provide income. To obtain the needed support is both our challenge and our opportunity.
Indirect Public Support HelpIndirect public support represents revenue received through solicitation campaigns. This includes funding United Way and other federated fundraising organizations, but does not include donor designated contributions.
Earned Revenue HelpEarned revenue represents income generated in direct exchange for a product or service.Earned income includes income from government contracts.
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1000 N. Broadway Ave., Oklahoma City, OK 73102