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New Oklahoma Contemporary Opens With Ambitious Contemporary Arts Program
New facilities in downtown Oklahoma City, designed by Rand Elliott Architects, will expand Oklahoma Contemporary’s leading exhibition and educational programs
OKLAHOMA CITY | March 2, 2020 — On Friday, March 13, Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center will re-launch in a stunning new building, designed by Rand Elliott Architects to reflect the unique quality of light and sky in the region. This home for exhibitions, education and performance will be free and open to the public and will anchor the organization’s new, central location in downtown Oklahoma City. The new center will dramatically increase Oklahoma Contemporary’s capacity for free, internationally relevant exhibitions and programming and increase art access and education for citizens of Oklahoma, students and visitors alike.
Both the new building and the inaugural exhibition were inspired by the ever-changing light across Oklahoma’s sky. The inaugural exhibition is titled Bright Golden Haze, words from the first line in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s iconic musical Oklahoma!, in which a cowboy sings about the morning light (and new love) in the dawn of Oklahoma’s statehood. The exhibition presents a diverse range of artworks from nationally and internationally acclaimed contemporary artists who use light to create a specific sense of place, utilizing the new building’s expanded gallery space to exhibit significant, large-scale works. Over the course of its first year, Oklahoma Contemporary plans to expand its programming to present five exhibitions – in the galleries, on its grounds and in adjacent Campbell Art Park – along with a wide variety of public programs to welcome upwards of 100,000 visitors, serving its community in Oklahoma and beyond.
“As Oklahoma Contemporary grows over the next year – expanding into a much larger, more central and fully-appointed location – we also are staying close to our origins as a community arts center, a place for the people of Oklahoma and visitors to our city to explore creativity,” said Oklahoma Contemporary founder and president, Christian Keesee. “We are excited to open in March with an enhanced lineup of groundbreaking exhibitions, educational programs and performances that will explore and bring alive the art of our time.”
Oklahoma Contemporary’s new flagship building
The new 53,916-square-foot, four-story building with a luminous facade – designed by Oklahoma City firm Rand Elliott Architects – captures aspects of the state’s ever-changing weather conditions and reflects and embraces the dramatic changes in light and sky that characterize the local landscape. In addition to the 8,000 square feet of galleries for visual art, the new building includes a flexible theater space that seats 200, a dance studio and nine classroom studios. The building is the centerpiece of the purpose-built 4.6-acre Oklahoma Contemporary campus, which will become a cultural gateway to downtown Oklahoma City. The grounds also include a renovated 9,839 square-foot historic warehouse (which houses studios for ceramics and fiber as well as metal and wood sculpture) and a three-block arts park, providing space for outdoor exhibitions, education programs and public performances.
“We see the new Oklahoma Contemporary as an important catalyst for Oklahoma City’s ongoing cultural and economic renaissance,” said Oklahoma Contemporary Artistic Director Jeremiah Davis. “Through a dynamic mix of spaces designed to experience and create art across disciplines, the new building has enabled us to craft an exciting inaugural program built to bring the world to Oklahoma and Oklahoma to the world. We hope this unique combination of exhibitions, performances, learning opportunities and community engagement inspires our visitors to see contemporary art in a new light.”
Oklahoma Contemporary’s move from its original home at the city’s State Fair Park is a significant step in the evolution of the organization, which was founded as a community-oriented arts center in 1989. The new Oklahoma Contemporary will greatly grow offerings across exhibitions, education and performance, with exceptional exhibition spaces,
studios built to the specific needs of artists and performers, and classrooms that will allow the institution’s team of experienced educators to function as never before.
Situated just north of historic Automobile Alley, the new building will become a highly recognizable landmark of Oklahoma City, positioned at a dedicated stop on Oklahoma City’s new streetcar, which serves the city’s greater downtown. On approach, visitors will be greeted by a striking, sculptural building with a facade comprised of 16,800 custom-fabricated extruded aluminum fins, which extend from the ground to the top of the building’s parapet. The unique exterior shell is constructed from bright-dipped aluminum, resulting in an ethereal facade designed to capture and echo the surrounding environment.
Visitors will enter into a light-filled lobby, welcoming them in an open space that leads to flexible areas for public use, including a locally run cafe and retail shop. The first floor includes a “Creative Lounge,” intended as a public space for local residents and visitors to gather, which includes a 500-volume contemporary art library and honors Oklahoma Contemporary’s history and legacy as a community organization.
On the exterior, The Lantern, a dramatic tower of light, runs from ground level to past the roofline on the southwest corner of the centerpiece building. The Lantern will be a steadfast source of light in the night and an iconic new Oklahoma City landmark. Alongside this, the sculptural porte-cochère adds an elegance to the entrance of the building and offers guests protection from the elements on arrival.
Architect Rand Elliott, who also designed Oklahoma City's noted Boathouse District and the honored Chesapeake Boathouse, is well-known for producing innovative architectural spaces that are responsive to their context.
“The new building is architecture created to celebrate the ever-changing light in Oklahoma. With a focus on arts education, the building is intended to inspire visitors to see art responding to the environment around them,” Elliott said. “Special attention has been given to creating the north-facing outdoor terrace with views of the Oklahoma State Capitol dome. We hope visitors will leave the building with memories of their experience ascending the ceremonial stair. Art helps us see the world differently.”
Oklahoma Contemporary’s new downtown campus will stand as a modern marvel among the architecture of Oklahoma City, complementing and reflecting the city’s unique landscape.
The Oklahoma Contemporary experience will continue outdoors, where a sculpture garden will feature rotating works and the adjacent Campbell Art Park will host large-scale sculptural installations year-round. The flexible-use second-floor terrace, on the north side of the main building, can host receptions of up to 150 seated or 250 standing guests, while landscaping elements will provide shade and cover for Oklahoma’s unpredictable weather.
A creative community
Since its founding in 1989 as City Arts Center, Oklahoma Contemporary has been embraced by the local community. The new Oklahoma Contemporary is situated in Oklahoma City’s Innovation District, a multidisciplinary hub that brings together some of Oklahoma’s largest industries and employers to an energized, revitalized area east of the city’s downtown. Oklahoma Contemporary will become a major cultural component of the Innovation District, which also spans healthcare, energy, aerospace, technology, research, academia and more.
“Oklahoma City’s cultural landscape has come of age the last two decades, and hardly a week passes without a major new development,” said Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt. “But the opening of the spectacular new home of Oklahoma Contemporary is on another level. This is a world-class facility, dedicated to art in all its forms, and our region will not be the same after its arrival.”
“What it means to our cultural life is only rivaled by what it will mean to our city’s economic growth. The synergy between this facility and Automobile Alley, the Innovation District, our new convention center, Scissortail Park, Midtown and Bricktown will be amazing, and all of it will be linked by the streetcar. I can’t wait.”
The design and construction of the new building have been funded by a capital campaign, supported by the generosity of more than 200 donors who have given more than $26 million to date. The funds support both construction and opening-year programs, ensuring that admission to exhibitions remains free for all ages and allowing Oklahoma Contemporary to grow its audiences from 22,000 to an estimated 100,000+ in 2020.
The capital campaign’s honorary chair, Oklahoma City native Ed Ruscha, said, “In building their new arts campus, Oklahoma Contemporary expands on creative tradition in the state, supporting the arts community here and connecting it to outside voices and ideas. Through its exhibitions and programs, in this state-of-the-art facility, the institution will offer visitors new ways to encounter and experience the arts. It is my sincere belief that Oklahoma Contemporary will inspire creativity for many generations of Oklahomans to come.”
In its inaugural year, the new Oklahoma Contemporary will present exhibitions of contemporary art by local, national and international practitioners. Alongside Bright Golden Haze, concurrent exhibition Shadow on the Glare will feature photo and video works that critically respond to Bright Golden Haze’s themes of light and place — in this case, focusing particularly on the landscapes of Oklahoma. In September, Oklahoma Contemporary will present a major exhibition by Ruscha.
Bright Golden Haze will also engage the wider Oklahoma City community with Bright Golden Haze: Reflections. Supported by the Kirkpatrick Family Fund, 13 organizations from the Oklahoma City area have received grants to produce exhibitions and performances related to Bright Golden Haze. The result is a citywide celebration of the new Oklahoma Contemporary, with the community united around a shared theme. Highlights range from newly commissioned murals at the National Cowboy & Western Museum to an exhibition of prismatic projections at the Science Museum of Oklahoma to a presentation of photography and programming exploring Mexican-American lowrider culture at Scissortail Community Development Corporation, in partnership with the Latino Cultural Center.
Arts education is key to the founding mission of Oklahoma Contemporary and will remain a core part of the organization’s work in the new building. With expanded space and resources, Oklahoma Contemporary will build upon the success of its family-focused Second Saturday program, bringing free art talks, hands-on art making, music, performances, storytime and gallery adventures to 500 visitors each month. To activate galleries and draw new audiences, the institution will launch Thursday Night Late, a weekly program featuring artist talks, discussions, performances, craft cocktails and more.
With the opening of Bright Golden Haze, Oklahoma Contemporary will introduce free daily public tours, facilitated by Gallery Guides, intended to provide visitors with new insights into contemporary art. These initiatives will supplement Oklahoma Contemporary’s comprehensive educational and public programming strategy, which includes studio activities, artist demonstrations, performances and artist talks. An expanded Learning Gallery in the new building will provide a dedicated space for interpreting and engaging with works on view.
Oklahoma Contemporary will continue to work with Oklahoma City Public Schools to provide Art For Every 5th Grader, a program that aims to bring every fifth-grader in the city into the institution. This and other free programming will supplement the more-formal arts education provided by the Studio School. Oklahoma Contemporary will further its pioneering work in youth and adult arts education and introduce a Teen Arts Council for high school students interested in contemporary art.
Hand in hand with its public programs, Oklahoma Contemporary is also developing Studio School. Studio School will be the true backbone of the organization, uniting the multifaceted and community-oriented arts education program of the organization’s founding with classes and a level of rigor inspired by the distinguished programming that Oklahoma Contemporary has grown to present. Studio School offers a student-centered learning environment where artists at all stages develop their practice through the investigation of contemporary art and ideas. It is a place to be challenged and explore new perspectives while learning and improving skills, advancing techniques and experimenting with familiar and new media.
Teens and adults are enrolling now for the inaugural lineup of quarterly 10-week sessions and various workshops across multiple disciplines, as well as open studio options, allowing students to work outside of structured classes.
About Oklahoma Contemporary
Oklahoma Contemporary is a multidisciplinary contemporary arts organization, providing a catalyst for the exploration of creativity and contemporary art through a program of groundbreaking exhibitions, performances and educational programs. Developed by and for Oklahomans to present and explore the key innovations, issues and concerns of the art of our time, Oklahoma Contemporary does so while drawing on the dynamic aesthetic, cultural, historical and political landscape of the state. At its core, the institution is an inclusive space – Oklahoma Contemporary believes that art is for everyone and places accessibility and education at the center of all programming. Exhibitions are always free, and everyone is welcome. Oklahoma Contemporary is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in 1989 by businessman and philanthropist Christian Keesee and Kirkpatrick Foundation Director Marilyn Myers.
About Rand Elliott Architects
Globally recognized Rand Elliott Architects creates inspired, original work that speaks to the client’s culture and setting, creating a powerful experience. Established in 1976, Rand Elliott Architects came to prominence in part by winning 10 National AIA Honor Awards for Architecture in 14 years’ time.
More information can be found in the media kit at okcontemp.org/launch. Past press releases and information are archived at okcontemp.org/media.
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Images: The new Oklahoma Contemporary. Scott McDonald, Gray City Studios, Robert Montgomery, The Stars Pulled Down for Real, 2015. Commissioned by ALL RISE, Seattle, Wash. Photo by Max Cleary. Teresita Fernández, Golden (Odyssey), 2014. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul. Robert Irwin, Lucky You, 2011. © Robert Irwin, courtesy of the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation. Photo by Clare Britt. Camille Utterback, Entangled, 2015. Commissioned for Installation at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco. Photo by JKA Photography. Marianne Nicolson (Dzawada'enuxw First Nation), Ḱanḱagawí (The Seam of Heaven), 2018. Photo: Seattle Art Museum.