Working to build a city that attracts and retains talent, like William Franklin, has been a pursuit of mine for years. Known professionally as William the Artist, Franklin could arguably thrive in any city on the planet; but he purposefully chooses to live in Tulsa.  As an admirer of his and as an urban planning advocate; that intrigued me, so I set out to learn more about what keeps him here.

William Franklin is a third generation, self-taught artist who is also an accomplished entrepreneur, businessman, and community activist.  He’s the creator and proprietor of DECOPOLIS, a downtown retail store and visitor center, located at 502 S. Boston Ave.  It is a one of a kind space that might leave you feeling as if you are in another city; it’s that unique. 

William The Artist

William Franklin attracted local recognition as a rising artist when he was selected as the 2009 International Mayfest Poster Artist.  Since then he’s been commissioned by Mayfest to add each year’s poster to the Mayfest “Kite Mural” on the Hyatt building facing Main Street in downtown Tulsa. 

William’s real specialty however is creating Trompe’ L’oeil murals for the home and business.  The work has him collaborating with decorators, artists and designers from across the US and Europe on projects from New York to London; some featured in regional and national publications.

Franklin designed and painted one of the largest mural projects in Oklahoma history, for the WinStar Casino.  The two-year venture featured five large ceiling murals including a domed piece that is five stories across.  To manage large-scale projects like William undertakes, one must be creative, disciplined, and focused.  He has all that in spades, and more.  

William’s work will soon be featured in the Kitchen 66 General Store when it opens in the long-anticipated Mother Road Market at 1124 S. Lewis Ave., where he will feature exclusive prints and Tulsa related souvenirs.  In addition to everything else, he is now developing a comic/cartoon series that will be ripe for syndication.  

William the Entrepreneur and Businessman

A visit to DECOPOLIS will remind older Tulsans of when retail was flourishing downtown; when sidewalks were crowded with shoppers and sightseers.  William designs and creates unique products for the shop, including art deco styled posters, cards, and t-shirts.  He has also designed and built two floors of magically themed environments for its various departments.  Here you will find many Tulsa related gifts, souvenirs, local-interest books, and information about Downtown and Route 66 attractions!

It is exactly the kind of locally owned and operated specialty store that most Tulsans want to see more of downtown.  Having built upon the limited success of the seasonal pop-up shops from a few years ago, DECOPOLIS has become a true destination for both locals and visitors.  Much like the pioneering efforts of the Spaghetti Warehouse and Mexicali Border Café in the early days of The Arts District, DECOPOLIS is paving the way for more retail successes in the Deco District. 

But DECOPOLIS is much more than just a retail establishment.  DECOPOLIS STUDIOS has assembled a team of artists and craftsmen who love creating theatrical props and themed environments! For the second year in a row they’ve added magic to Guthrie Green’s annual Urban Luau, by building a tiki hut and some giant tiki tower totems for each side of the stage. And the next time you visit Washington D.C., be sure to check out William’s Art Deco styled mural in the new “Museum of the Bible.”    

William the Community Activist

Some say, “if you need something done, ask a busy person.”  In William Franklin’s case, I would characterize him as more productive than busy.  In his presence, I never observe a sense urgency, stress, or deadlines.  Surely his business interests keep him occupied for more than the ordinary 40-hour work week, yet he still manages to contribute his time and talents to building community by serving on Tulsa’s Downtown Coordinating Council (DCC).  He is also a regular contributor/commenter on various social media site discussions about public policy and urban planning.

Franklin is the President and Founder of the Tulsa Art Deco Museum, located in the lobby of the Philcade Building located at 511 S. Boston.  Combining his collection of art deco artifacts and memorabilia with those of several others, the museum showcases the incredible artistry of the Art Deco style and its place within Tulsa’s rich history.  Admission to the museum is free. 

William the Renaissance Man

William Franklin is one of the most brilliantly talented and fascinating people I’ve met in Tulsa. He exhibits the style and self-confidence of an authentic renaissance man; while maintaining a sense of grace and humility.  His energy and unbridled optimism are contagious and inspire others, as evidenced by the reaction his art students reflect during and after his classes.  William Franklin is young, fit, handsome and always impeccably dressed (often with a Bow Tie and the latest style in eyewear). 

I’ve had the good fortune to know a number of artists over the years, some very talented ones.  A couple of things that distinguish William Franklin from some of them is his business acumen and his innate ability to manage the heavy demands on his time and live a balanced life.

That’s not to say he isn’t a borderline workaholic; but not really, because his work is also his calling, his recreation and his passion.  And in spite of all the success he has enjoyed, I think William is really just getting started.  He has big plans, huge plans that would rival the most ambitious you’ve heard or thought about for our community.  Think a sort of Disney Studios in Tulsa, something completely outside the box as we presently think of our fair city.  Stay tuned, because I’m convinced…the best from William Franklin is yet to come.  

Not surprisingly, William is a family man.  His husband, Dr. Chris McDaniels, is a highly successful Tulsa Optometrist and proprietor of LOOK Eyecare & Eyewear.  Partners in life, and partners in business, they live in midtown Tulsa with their three cats and a dog. 

So, what keeps this mild-mannered super-hero in T-Town?

The competition among cities to attract talent and the creative-class is fierce, and the place-making strategies diverse.  Tulsa has a leg up with William Franklin, because he grew up in the area, and this is his home.  But like many communities, Tulsa routinely experiences the loss of bright people who can’t seem to resist the allure of fame and fortune in a larger market, even though they might eventually return here. 

I asked him this simple question: “William, you and Chris could live literally anywhere, and perhaps in some instances, make more money and achieve more notoriety.  What are the most important reasons why you choose to stay in Tulsa?”

Here is his response:

“Driving through Dallas a while back it occurred to me, “Where could I have started something like Decopolis and it even be noticed here?”  How could I start something small, and it stand out, compete, and grow in this metro that goes on and on, and already has so much?”  I think you can more easily be someone and make a difference in Tulsa. That is potential and opportunity. 

Also, it seems that there are those who tend to focus more on “enjoying what others have created” and then there are those who “find joy in building and creating, for others”.  I am definitely the latter, and Tulsa is a good fit.

When I see something great somewhere else in the world, I don’t think “Wow I want to stay here to enjoy it” instead I think, “I can take ideas from that and make something wonderful of my own in Tulsa.”  And that gets to the crux of it, creating something and then seeing others loving it, for that makes you feel really good. And in a city like Tulsa, where there isn’t already “so much”, I can more easily imagine people seeing, liking, and enjoying what I create.  And then if your successful, you can grow and continue creating even more!”  

“Why go someplace else?  I’ll just create something

wonderful  here and bring the world to me.”

Check out this gallery of photos of William, DECOPOLIS, The Art Deco Museum and samples of his murals 

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