Oklahoma Contemporary leaders have not been spiking the ball about opening their new facilities but they would be forgiven for at least thinking about it.
Originally slated for a 2018 opening on N. Broadway and 11th Street in OKC, the organization went through twists and turns of funding just to have their long-awaited opening in March stall due to the rise of the pandemic.
It must feel like a major arrival for donors, staff, and long-term participants in their programming.
But, they are open now and it’s a far cry from their former space at Fair Park.
When I took a photo tour of the campus recently the spaces seemed to be in constant motion even with careful staff-guided distancing measures to make your visit there a safe one.
The original decision process to move from their fairgrounds building started with a study in 2011 that made a convincing case for moving near downtown. It was a concept later validated as various other galleries and museums have moved to rebuilt spaces downtown in the last decade.
Now, the shiny new Oklahoma Contemporary stands out as a gem in what was a block-long stretch of dour business buildings.
See our galleries at the end of this article!
Architect Rand Elliot and developers have been carefully reimagining N. Broadway for many years while preserving the legacy feel of what was once a busy stretch of car dealerships and other light industrial buildings. Today, the district is designated “Automobile Alley” for that reason.
I interviewed Elliott in 2015 about the OC project for an article in the Oklahoma Gazette during my days freelancing before founding this publication.
He talked about how the new building he called “Folding Light” was a symbol of change and would reflect that in how the materials and design would constantly transform in appearance throughout the day as the light hits it. Then, at night there would be endless possibilities for change from programed lighting.
In a tour of the building in August, it seemed to have been built very close to the their original plans he explained in our 2015 interview.
And, the new maker space, “The Studios”, was born out of an old railroad dock building next to the nearby rail line, very much in keeping with the original idea for the place.
Educating children and adults in the arts was a part of the concept of the two buildings and my tour of both revealed that heavy emphasis.
Many different classrooms and dance studios in the new building and provision for the tactile arts such as pottery and weaving in the maker space stood out as elements of the campus that set it apart from an art gallery or museum.
A feature of the campus that existed for many decades before OC got there is Campbell Park which provides a green space between the main new building and busy Broadway Avenue. OC has been carrying on open-air, participative exhibitions in the park well before its new buildings were completed.
Oklahoma Contemporary has always been an organization that was not satisfied with being an art gallery alone.
Instead, a visit to their previous space at the fairgrounds often had more the feel of a public school building or bus station because of the many groups coming and going at all hours in their arts education programs.
The fairgrounds allowed for the free flow of auto traffic except for the three weeks of State Fair activities. That same accessibility to drop-off and pick-up auto traffic can be seen in the new building’s spacious entryway incorporating a large carport that contributes to the building’s design rather than being an afterthought.
On the visit to the maker space we found pottery kilns at work and people working on new projects in the weaving arts space.
But, OC is also equipped for performance and display arts of many types, too.
Large, flexible exhibit and performance spaces make up the core of OC and inaugural exhibits feature innovative works that engage the visual senses with light and movement.
Bright Golden Haze is their first exhibition. It gets its name from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical Oklahoma.
Find a full explanation of the exhibit and the artists whose work is featured there on the Oklahoma Contemporary website.
And, upcoming exhibitions will feature works by Ed Ruscha and Julian Opie.
Folding Light gallery
The Studios gallery
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