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World's only banjo museum moving to Bricktown

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By Audrey Esther and Darren Brown, INsite Team

Believe it or not, 1920s banjo players were a lot like today's pop stars.

"They were mainstream pop stars," American Banjo Museum executive director Johnny Baier said. "That's just how popular the music and the banjo was in the 1920s."

Some 90 years later, the same is not true.

"The fact that we see it in country and bluegrass settings today is the reason most people perceive it in this picking and grinning fashion," Baier said.

Step inside the American Banjo Museum in downtown Guthrie and your perception might change. This small space claims to be the only banjo museum in the world, and claims worldwide fame.

"Our goal has always been to share this national treasue with as many people as possible," Baier said.

But it's the lack of visitors, and lack of space, Baier said, that made relocating the museum to Bricktown a necessity.

"It has been a little dissapointing to sit here for days with no one coming through the door," he said.

The museum currently has more than 300 banjos, most from the Jazz age. Museum directors are in ongoing negotiations to acquire 600 more banjos from Japan.

"We love Guthrie," Baier said. "I wish the charm and the kindness that the people have shown us while we were here translanted to the number of people we see come through the door."  

In January, the museum bought a 21,000-square-foot building in Bricktown for about $1 million. A year from now, the Bricktown location plans to open its doors, but that's after a $2 million renovation. The new state-of-the-art museum will include a 60-seat-performance theater, and an interactive banjo history exhibit. 

"We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something with this museum that will allow us to share our treasures with as many people as possible," Baier said.

Museum co-founder Jack Canine helped fund a large part of the project.

"We've added something to Guthire for 10 years and we hope we'll be missed," he said.  

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