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OKPOP lays off staff as museum continues toward fundraising goal

The Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture is seen.
Max Bryan
The Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture is seen.

State officials who oversee the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture say they are temporarily laying off museum staff.

In a Monday news release, the Oklahoma Historical Society said it has made the decision to downsize staff starting August 30 until the museum build-out is fully funded. It is unclear how many staffers will be cut.

OKPOP has a goal to raise $18 million in private money by November 2025 to match the same amount given by the state this year.

A Historical Society spokesperson said they are not doing interviews with the media at this time.

Once open, the museum will highlight Oklahomans who have made contributions to popular culture through music, film and other media. Oklahomans currently featured online by the museum include actors Brad Pitt and Alfre Woodard, and musicians The Gap Band, The Flaming Lips and Kings of Leon.

Joey Duffy, who works in the museum’s production department, said he and his boss were both told Monday that they’d be let go.

“Two different people called me, and both people were on the verge of tears, apologizing, saying how much this is the worst thing that they have ever had to do. And for us at the museum, this is not just a simple bureaucratic decision,” Duffy said.

The museum originally had a loftier goal of $36 million in private donations before the State Legislature approved half that total this session. Legislation that accomplished this was initially held up in the 2023 session.

The museum's efforts have included acquiring Oklahoma country music star Blake Shelton for its fundraising campaign.

“Until they can (get the $18 million), they’re going to be running on a shoestring budget,” said state Rep. John Waldron, who has advocated for the museum in the Legislature.

Duffy said OKPOP gave him "the best job I ever had," and said he hopes he can get it back. He also hopes the museum opens because he believes in its mission.

“We want to be able to inspire that kid in Verdigris, that kid in McAlester, who thinks that they’ll never make it out of Oklahoma, that they can never accomplish their dreams — that people have done it from here, and they can, too,” Duffy said.

"When we get OKPOP up and running, and we celebrate the contributions Oklahomans have made to our culture, I think that's something we can all take pride in," Waldron said.

Max Bryan is a news anchor and reporter for KWGS. A Tulsa native, Bryan worked at newspapers throughout Arkansas and in Norman before coming home to "the most underrated city in America." Several of Bryan's news stories have either led to or been cited in changes both in the public and private sectors.