Oklahoma Contemporary Plans New Arts, Resource Center
By Heide Brandes | Photography provided by Oklahoma Contemporary
For more than 25 years, Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center has encouraged artistic expression and education at the Oklahoma City Fairgrounds location, but now it has the opportunity to create a new arts education and cultural resource in downtown Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma Contemporary, supported by the Kirkpatrick Foundation, is building a new state-of-the-art center on a 4.6 acre site at NW 11th and Broadway in Midtown. The new four-story 50,000-square-foot building will include classrooms to support art study in everything from painting and fiber arts to high-tech new media expression like animation.
In 2014, a $26 million capital campaign was approved by the Oklahoma Contemporary Board of Directors to fund construction of the new arts center campus.
“It was pretty clear that we were out of sync with the arts community where we were located,” said Christian Keesee, co-founder and president of Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center and founder of Marfa Contemporary. Keesee also serves as a trustee of the Kirkpatrick Family Fund and the Kirkpatrick Foundation, both of which are very focused on arts and arts education.
“In downtown Oklahoma City, there are a lot of important cultural events going on. For us to be so far removed was a real hindrance for us,” he said. “We now have five acres in the shadow of downtown, and we will be located along the streetcar route with lots of parking, so it will be very accessible.”
While the current location offered youth art camps, art classes and workshops, exhibitions and free public lectures, the age of the facility was creating concerns.
“The old building was built in the 1950s. We also saw a growing concern about safety,” Keesee said, adding that the new Oklahoma Contemporary Art Center would be outfitted with state-of-the-art safety features like fire suppression systems and safe rooms.
“The way people learn about art is very different today. Now people use iPads to paint, take pictures, compose music. All the classrooms will be updated to support that,” Keesee said.
While arts education is the top mission of Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center, exhibition space will also play a major role. Although Oklahoma Contemporary is not a museum, it does host art and performance exhibitions and will be built to the American Association of Museums standards.
“Oklahoma Contemporary is not a museum because we have no permanent collections,” Keesee said. “But we still want to meet the standards for exhibition space.”
Serving as the first on-site step toward the new development, the Showroom—made from four repurposed shipping containers—will temporarily house exhibitions, events and an art library. The arts education camps will offer expanded classes in ceramics, fiber, painting, performance and new media like filmmaking and 3-D printing.
One of the biggest changes the new building will debut is the addition of performance art space. Performance has also been added to Oklahoma Contemporary’s mission statement, and the building will feature a flexible theater space as well as a ballet studio.
The grounds around the art center will have space for outdoor sculpture exhibits, children’s art education activities and outdoor music and performance productions.
A separate Industrial Arts Building will host ceramic firing, welding, woodworking and other forms of art that use fire.
“We hope to be open by Spring 2019 at the latest,” Keesee said.
Oklahoma Contemporary working on the new location since 2011, when a study found the arts organization could better serve the city and state if located closer to other Oklahoma City attractions, major workplaces and residential areas.
The center has raised nearly 75 percent of the funds for Folding Light, the 53,916-square-foot building at the center of the campus, and 60 percent of the $26 million needed for the entire project. A groundbreaking ceremony was held last fall.
Oklahoma City native and honorary capital campaign chair Ed Ruscha, one of the world’s most-noted contemporary artists, says the new campus “will be instrumental in encouraging, developing and understanding contemporary art in Oklahoma.”
“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,” Ruscha said.
“Now funding is such an issue that art is out (of public schools). I hope Oklahoma Contemporary will be well-positioned to fill the gap in arts education. All of this is done with the purpose of revealing talent. We have so much talent in our state that is unrevealed because there is not an avenue for it to be revealed,” Keesee said. “Our mission is to give an opportunity for talent to be revealed—to reveal artistic expression in all its forms.”