In a land long recognized for its Western heritage and “winds that come sweepin’ down the plain,” Oklahoma City has opened new attractions that have transformed the city into a cultural beacon sure to attract groups for years to come.
Oklahoma City is not just the state capital with cosmopolitan art and science museums. It is also home to several attractions that focus on Native American culture, the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, the Myriad Botanical Gardens, and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. In addition, the city has a startling number of fun new things to experience, such as the Riversport indoor skiing attraction and a new Softball Hall of Fame.
“We are known for our Western heritage and for being the horse show capital of the world,” said Sandy Price, vice president of Tourism for Visit Oklahoma City, “but we have expanded on that and reinvented ourselves.”
Thanks to the number of projects completed the past 20 years through its Metropolitan Area Projects Plan, Oklahoma City has become a great tour destination. MAPs, as it is known, added many attractions, including the Bricktown Ballpark, the Bricktown Canal, a trolley, a new convention center and a performing arts center. More projects are on the way.
Here are four to include on a group visit to Oklahoma City:
First Americans Museum
After three decades of planning, Oklahoma City celebrated the opening of the 175,000-square-foot First Americans Museum last year. It educates visitors about the 39 tribal nations that came to Oklahoma from all parts of the country.
With an all-native staff, the museum chronicles the tragic and beautiful stories about Native Americans’ homelands, their forced removal to Oklahoma and the tribes’ rich cultures through today. Ten columns in the Hall of People represent the 10 miles that native people were required to walk each day during their forced removal to the Indian Territories. Many died along the way.
“It’s very powerful and talks about [how] when they got here, [they] were put in boarding schools, had to cut their hair and couldn’t speak their language,” Price said.
The museum’s architecture alone makes a visit worthwhile. A team of Cherokee artists built a massive arch sculpture that frames the entrance in light. An enormous earthen mound built from 500,000 cubic yards of dirt provides visitors a view of Oklahoma City.
There are three main exhibit galleries, including an 8,000-square-foot exhibition of native clothing, textiles, tools and toys. There are also several theaters and restaurants featuring Native American food.
Oklahoma City welcomes the opening of the Blessed Stanley Rother Shrine on November 4, 2022. Constructed in classic Spanish architecture, the shrine will be a place of prayer commemorating the life of the Rev. Stanley Rother, an Oklahoma native. He is the first U.S.-born priest to be beatified for sainthood by the Catholic Church and was martyred in 1981 during his ministry in Guatemala.
The $40 million shrine will include a 2,000-seat church, an education building, a chapel and an event space. It will be the largest Catholic Church in Oklahoma, but proponents predict the shrine will attract pilgrims of many faiths.
“They have been building it for a few years,” Price said. “I don’t think it will be a draw just for Catholics. It will draw people for prayer from all over the world.”
Rother was a soft-spoken man who was killed during Guatemala’s Civil War. Before his death, Rother learned the local Tz’utujil language and translated the New Testament for those he served. He taught parishioners to read and write, and started a hospital, school and radio station. Rother became a beloved champion of the Indigenous community. Although members of his church were kidnapped and killed, he continued to serve despite the risks.
Liichokoshkomo, the Chickasaw phrase for “let’s play,” is a 100,000-square-foot outdoor addition to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Visitors of all ages will enjoy walking among its cliff dwellings, tipis, a prairie sod house, trading post and train depot to learn about and interact with the history of the West.
The cliffside dwellings are life-size. Groups can see a Chickasaw council house, watch programs in the event center, enjoy waterfalls and look inside a covered wagon like the ones that the pioneers used.
Price said though the attraction seems more geared toward families with kids, adults and seniors also enjoy exploring the seven Indian dwellings and the Western town, Prosperity Junction. Visitors experience what Western life was like by grinding corn and weaving on a giant loom. Young and old alike can lasso a wooden steer, hear tales about the West from professional storytellers and learn how to pack a wagon for the long journey West.
Oklahoma City Museum Of Art
The Oklahoma City Museum of Art (OKCMOA) opens a redesigned Chihuly Studio glass exhibit June 18, featuring five decades of glass and painting. Called “The Collection at Twenty,” the exhibit features five decades of Dale Chihuly’s glass and painting and tells the story of Chihuly’s groundbreaking career as a glassblower and sculptor.
In addition to Chihuly museum favorites like “Reeds,” “Float Boat” and “Ikebana Boat,” the presentation will include Chihuly works never seen before in Oklahoma City.
OKCMOA is also the recipient of the Rose Family Glass Collection. Highlights of the Rose collection will be introduced to visitors beginning Labor Day weekend. The collection will highlight the broader story of the Studio Glass movement that originated in America in the 1950s.
Jerry and Judy Rose began collecting their glass in 1977 and for 20 years added to it. In Seattle, they became friends with Chihuly and many other artists.
Their collection grew into one of the best private studio glass collections in the world with 179 works from 83 artists. The Oklahoma City Museum of Art is the new public home for the collection thanks to the generosity of the Roses’ children.