Director discusses museum, goals
OKLAHOMA CITY — James Pepper Henry (Kaw/Muscogee) has been named to be the new director of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum.
Pepper Henry has extensive experience in museum curating. Prior to joining the AICCM, he served as executive director of the Gilcrease Museum.
While at Gilcrease, he contributed by successfully implementing the $65 million Vision Project Tax extension campaign for the museum’s share of the funds.
He also served with the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center and The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Anchorage, Alaska.
Pepper Henry has been involved with the AICCM project for many years.
“Now to be the executive director of this organization is very exciting for me,” Pepper Henry said
In a press release from AICCM, President Gregg Wadley expressed confidence in Pepper Henry.
“As an American Indian, James Pepper Henry recognizes and appreciates the complexities of presenting a collective story and experience comprised of so many distinctive Nations…” Wadley said.
Pepper Henry stated there is a strong education component planned for the museum, that is not solely targeted towards tribal citizens in Oklahoma.
AICCM will serve as an educational resource for Oklahoma, as well as the rest of the nation and world about the tribes in Oklahoma.
AICCM is located in what is called the “Crossroads of America.” The area is where Interstate 35, Interstate 40 and Interstate 44 intersect with one another in the Oklahoma City area.
“It’s a perfect location, right in the middle of America, to educate the rest of our country and visitors from around the world about the rich cultures of our tribes right here in Oklahoma,” Pepper Henry said.
Challenges have arisen in the history of the construction of AICCM. The museum faces what most non-profit organizations face, raising money.
A combination of public and private contributions has helped the organization make their vision into a physical reality.
Because the design of AICCM is around 10 years old, updating is needed.
“The way we think about culture centers and heritage centers have changed a little bit,” Pepper Henry said.
He is confident that the changes needed in design will not affect the budget of the project and is excited to get AICCM up and running in a few years.
AICCM will have revolving exhibits once in operation and will not be a collecting institution.
The museum will be borrowing collections from other organizations, individuals and tribes.
They show no interest in collecting or housing archaeological items for a very important reason.
“Many archaeological sites are grave sights and we don’t want to endorse or promote the disturbing or disruption of an eternal resting place,” Pepper Henry said.
AICCM is meant to be a museum of living culture, respecting the beliefs and traditions of the tribes in Oklahoma.
The focus on the museum will be both historical period and contemporary art.
“One of the mandates that we will have here at the cultural center when we’re open is to support living Native artists and be able to promote contemporary Native art,” Pepper Henry said.
The museum has been an idea for over 20 years and is on its way to completion.
“It’s been a dream of many people for a couple of generations now to see this come to fruition and I’m glad to be at this point and time,” Pepper Henry said.
He expressed his confidence in the leadership for AICCM and the timing of his role for the potential success of the museum.