Oklahoma Contemporary

Photo: Iasiah G. Pickens

Two Black women stand back-to-back, smiling at the camera. On the left, the woman is in a purple and blue patterned dress. On the right, the woman is dressed in a beige beret and green jacket. They are outside with plants behind them.

New Light

Aug. 19, 2023

Keeping It Local: Employing Artists in the Community

Learning from the best with the best

A large, metal building with sharp angles sits outside. The sky is cloudy with purple and pink hues. The ground looks wet. Green trees stand in front of the building.

In the early 90s, a mission was put forth to transform Oklahoma City into an innovative and contemporary place for folks from all over to gather, invest in and build a thriving community in the city center. It isn’t a stretch to say now, particularly with OKC’s recent recognition as one of the largest growing cities, that our home in the middle of the state is bursting and blooming with a robust artistic community that aided in that cultural and economic growth.

At Oklahoma Contemporary, we strive to serve and support our evolving local scene. When we say keep it local, we really mean it! From visitor experience (VE) associates and gallery guides to Studio School and Camp Contemporary instructors, our staff is chock-full of local artists working in and for the community.

Four photographs are hung on a white wall, staggering in two rows stacked next to one another. In the top two images, a Black masculine-presenting individual is in a white crochet top. In the bottom two, a white masculine-presenting man is in a dark coat.

Evan Anderson's Untitled (2022)

The first faces you see upon entry are some of those artists making and creating.

Chris Desien’s current artistry is bread making,” Membership and Visitor Experience Manager Amanda Herl explains of her staff. “Nym Hansen does a lot of contract and installation work, and Evan Anderson is a full time photographer and works within the community. Ellisa Moore is going to school for art, and Whitney Clear is a writer and has even started a writing club, just to name a few.”

And while we aren’t solely hiring artists to fill roles within our new home, the knowledge, experience and passion that comes with art-making is a big plus.

“You don’t have to be an artist to work here but it obviously helps,” Herl says. “It adds to people’s experience by being able to talk about different art, but it also gives them, VE and gallery guides, the ability to work here and support themselves and their art. We offer flexible schedules for working artists. We even have the staff showcase, and for some people, like Evan, it’s their first showcase of their art ever. It’s really great and kind of helps give them exposure to other people.”

A person in a red-brown jacket with dark hair is helping a young kid with clay. The child has blonde hair is looking at the camera, smiling with braces, and is wearing a striped colorful shirt.

Camp Contemporary spring 2023

Our VE team isn’t the only department at Oklahoma Contemporary that brings on local artists. Kau’i Kanahele, senior coordinator of teen and youth programs, is in charge of hiring studio assistants for Camp Contemporary sessions.

“With studio assistants, a lot of them are artists themselves looking to get into a contemporary space or interested in helping foster creativity in younger kids,” Kanahele says. “A lot of studio assistants are in college or looking to pursue other creative avenues, and camp is a good place to start. If they are interested in becoming teaching artists in the future, it’s good to see from other teaching artists how they handle the classroom and what kind of projects they’re doing.”

As a mural artist herself, Kanahele can personally empathize with the importance of sourcing from makers in the city. The senior coordinator of teen and youth programs utilizes those insights to not only hire stellar assistants for camps, but to instill a love for art and the community through the Oklahoma Contemporary Teen Arts Council, too.

A group of teenagers stand outside next to a colorful mural. They all have snow cones and are smiling at the camera.

Oklahoma Contemporary Teen Arts Council 2022-2023

“A huge thing for the OCTAC is I want them to be able to build their own community in a sense,” Kanahele says. “You don’t necessarily have to be the best artist to be on the council, it’s more like if you’re wanting to foster art and creativity and share that with other people. As a group they can do that for each other, but I hope they take all the things they get excited about here and take it back with them to school, friends, or wherever.”

This idea of encouraging and facilitating community building and expanding it past our walls sits at the heart of Studio School. The educational spaces in our main building and right across the parking lot employ around 25 artists, with both local and national recognition. Fiber artist Darci Lenker recently received arguably the coolest shoutout from NASA, and knitting legend Kendall Ross is both Instagram and TikTok famous (and rightly so!) with a number of Hollywood A-listers as clients. Ceramics artist Marissa Childers has been featured in Ceramics Monthly (keep an eye out for the September issue, too) and as an Emerging Artist for NCECA, and Childers is currently an artist-in-residence at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.

A person with long brown hair is bent over a wooden table. They're carefully working on a ceramic plate that sits on a blue spinning wheel.

Artist Marissa Childers

“The main reason that I try and hire local artists is to keep them in the city,” Manager of Ceramics David Stevens says. “Growing up here as an art kid and being surrounded by art kids, you couldn’t stay in OKC and make a living. You had to leave. So the opportunity Oklahoma Contemporary has put forth to change that reality is really important, and I’m doing everything I can to help keep that cause alive and moving forward. If we can get a little bit of money in [instructors'] pockets that’s awesome, but more importantly I want to expose the public to the people who are in the community, raising their awareness of what’s actually happening next door. I think other people tend to look outside of OKC for art, but both makers and appreciators need to know it exists here, and we’re doing it, and we’re doing really cool and interesting things. I try and support that any way I can.”

By truly keeping it local, we’re gifted with some of the most passionate and innovative staff in the arts game, and in turn, we have the pleasure of sharing them with our community.


Curator of Public Programs and Performance Marie Casimir (left) and Retail Coordinator and artist Iman Knox (right). Photo: Iasiah G. Pickens.

Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center. Photo: Ann Sherman.

Installation view of art_work_2022, including Evan Anderson's Untitled (2022).

Camp Contemporary studio assistant Paige Chance working with a camper in spring 2023.

Oklahoma Contemporary Teen Arts Council 2022-2023.

Artist Marissa Childers works on a ceramic puff plate.

Tags tags
Studio School local art local artists artists Camp Contemporary community Teen Arts Council visitor experience gallery guides

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Monday 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Closed Tuesday

Wednesday 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Thursday 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.

Friday - Sunday 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

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Visit us at 11 NW 11th St.
Oklahoma City, OK 73103
Phone: 405 951 0000
Fax: 405 951 0003

Oklahoma Contemporary
P.O. Box 3062
Oklahoma City, OK 73101

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