Oklahoma native Woody Guthrie was a visionary for music, equality, and humanity. Deana McCloud helps tell his story.
Woody Guthrie Center Executive Director Deana McCloud is a veteran teacher with a Masters in Library Media Informational Technology. While people may initially remember Guthrie for his musical contributions, he stood for much more. She says, “his wasn't a political ideology; it was a humanist perspective. Take care of each other…it’s a message that is at the core of everything he did.” At a time when taking stances for civil rights and union workers was frowned upon, Woody Guthrie stood firm. “He would often put himself in physical danger. He was fearless in his art.” While he considered himself “an educator, not an entertainer” he inspired future generations to follow his lead. A lead his daughter Nora Guthrie felt needed to be brought back to Oklahoma.
McCloud spent 17 years forming The Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, and producing concerts and programs about him. She says it was “a natural connection” for her to assume the role of executive director. She continues, “we are a Grammy Museum affiliate, so I have always worked with their experts, colleagues, and partners.” She was also a facilitator and installation lead for The Outsiders House museum, and a professional consultant for the upcoming Folk American Roots Music Hall of Fame located in Boston. McCloud states, “Nora wanted Woody’s message to return to his home state, where his thoughts about progressive views are so needed.” She continues, “by opening up the archive, we are able to encourage a thoughtful dialogue with folks who may not always agree, but can find common ground.” Woody’s son and fellow musician Arlo Guthrie is also involved with, and now a part of the museum. “Arlo is a dear friend and supporter. Two of Woody's instruments, and the first guitar Woody bought for Arlo are spotlights within the gallery. These are on loan. Most recently, he allowed us to curate an exhibit about his own life and music, which was a wonderful way of his showing his support to what we do.” To McCloud, “he is family.”
A site location for Tulsa Little Jams, a local segment show that puts original artist center stage, the setting couldn’t be more perfect. “Our theatre is intimate and has a wonderful acoustic for this type of program” McCloud says. “We hope by spotlighting our local talent, we are able to provide a platform for reaching more fans.” An advocate for keeping local music local, she believes simply, there is no other city with such talented music artists. “My hope is to help facilitate the growth of the music industry so that our talent doesn't continue to move outside of our area in order to make a living, and have the resources available in other communities.”
Many traveling archives have visited the museum, and trying to narrow it down to one favorite is an impossibility. Deana says, “picking one would be like asking me to pick a favorite child. They are all special.” Based on daily attendance it seems the exhibit featuring The Beatles was the most popular, followed closely by Stevie Ray Vaughn and John Denver. However, she feels the current exhibit “Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom” has gained a lot of attention and says, “It has a great message and is the most important special exhibit we have featured.”
Photo courtesy of Deana McCloud Facebook Page
With his iconic song “This Land Is Your Land” Deanna McCloud feels Woody Guthrie set the bar for music to a much higher level. “I think Woody set the precedence for music in the world, not just Oklahoma.” She wants all artists to follow in his footsteps and take a stand for what they believe in. She says, “when people tell artists just to “sing songs, you are here to entertain us” we absolutely disagree. Artists are here to make us dream bigger, think deeper, accomplish more.” And the message she hopes to convey to all who grace the museum would be this: “Be inspired to use your skills, whatever those might be. Take pride in yourself and your work. Everyone has an important part to play in this story of the world, and what you do is important and beautiful.” Woody Guthrie would whole heartedly agree.
The Woody Guthrie Center is located at 102 E. Reconciliation Way, and is open from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
The Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom exhibit will be on display at the museum until October 10, 2021.