A look inside Oklahoma Contemporary's new Learning Gallery with Public Programs Coordinator Blair Summers
When visitors first walk through the doors of the Learning Gallery at the new Oklahoma Contemporary, they are greeted with a message of inclusiveness. The introductory wall text invites people of every background, identity, generation, language and beyond to come inside and make themselves at home. This is at the heart of not only the new interactive learning space, but also of our larger mission as an organization: You are welcome here.
The Learning Gallery is a designated space adjacent to the Eleanor Kirkpatrick Main Gallery encouraging exploration through hands-on making, interactive displays, art books and other helpful resources to engage visitors of all ages. Beyond that, it’s a place for friends, family and strangers to take a moment to create, discuss and consider contemporary art from a new perspective. Each Learning Gallery design rotates alongside exhibitions to offer a range of entry points for people to connect their own personal experiences with works on view.
Meeting visitors where they are is a major goal of the Learning Gallery, creating space for them to have diverse experiences that extend their appreciation of contemporary art.
Our opening Learning Gallery installation features a custom display table, showcasing building materials used in our new arts center's construction and the sketchbooks of Rand Elliott, the architect behind Oklahoma Contemporary's new building. The space also includes a sketchbook-making activity, Lite Brite table, book corner, architectural-renderings slideshow and takeaways for visitors to dig deeper into both the delayed inaugural exhibition, Bright Golden Haze, and the architectural process.
“Bright Golden Haze starts with the way that our new building reflects and refracts the light from the expansive Oklahoma sky and considers the ways that artists define a place through light,” said the exhibition’s curator, Jennifer Scanlan. In the inaugural Learning Gallery installation, visitors will get the chance to see this exploration of light take shape right before their eyes.
The architectural display is a joint project between our Public Programs and Exhibitions teams, curated by me and Oklahoma Contemporary Curatorial Fellow Pablo Barrera. It invites visitors to consider the process behind the building's architecture and take a closer look at the built environment we interact with every day, much in the same way that Bright Golden Haze prompts reflection on light and space. In addition to the architect's sketchbooks, building materials and interactive components, the installation features 30 photographs exemplifying Elliot's observations on light — the culmination of more than 15 years of capturing images of the light that inspired him in his own home. Together with ephemera like material samples and digital renderings, the installation forms part of an ongoing conversation about the relationship between architecture and light.
"The building is sort of the first artwork that you see," Barrera said. "When you're entering the space, it's kind of like a whole experience unto itself. It's based upon light, and the changing qualities of light in space and place. That became part of the main idea behind what Bright Golden Haze is ultimately about. That exhibition was later reinterpreted in a more local perspective for Shadow on the Glare. So the building really has a lot to do with the exhibitions, especially for the inaugural exhibitions."
Bringing these exhibitions into a new light while meeting visitors where they are is a major goal of the Learning Gallery, creating space for them to have diverse experiences that extend their appreciation of contemporary art. Want to know more about your favorite piece in the exhibition? Looking for a hands-on project the whole family will love? Just want to sit somewhere comfortable and look through art books? The Learning Gallery is a space for everyone.
Blair Summers is coordinator of public programs at Oklahoma Contemporary. Summers works within Education and Public Programs to facilitate diverse programs for youth and adults, as well as interpretive content for visitors and staff.
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