Stage Center in Oklahoma City

I remember as a teenager vowing to never return to this place. Oklahoma City was by no means ‘cool,’ and the record-breaking, triple degree summer heat doesn’t help. But thanks to the Thunder, a recession-resistant economy, low cost of living, and a booming energy industry, Oklahoma City has become a bonafide destination spot. And its arts sector is responding. What’s even more surprising is that I’m starting to think this place isn’t SO bad.

Local art walks have gained a lot of attention as economic activators and community redevelopment tools, see: downtown Los Angeles. In fact, in researching for this blog post, I read that Columbus, OH, is using art walks as public health stimulators! Oklahoma City’s Plaza District employs a similar model.

Though not as large as downtown Los Angeles and without the express interest of improving people’s heart rates, the art galleries and small, independently owned businesses along NW 16th Street have banded together to breathe new life into the once blighted area. Second Fridays are always LIVE on the Plaza, featuring music, rotating exhibitions, special events, and local shopping.

The Paseo District is known for its community art walk as well, featuring local artisans, a yoga studio, hip(ster) cafes, and a popular dive bar. The Paseo has long been OKC’s go-to arts and crafts district and is now the home to sixtwelve, an innovative community project started by local architect James Varnum and woman-about-town Amy Young. The two purchased a beautiful building in the Paseo and are in the throes of renovating it now along with creating a programming schedule to launch in June 2012. Joining the company of Watts House Project, Project Row Houses, the Coleman Center for the Arts, and the Heidelberg Project, sixtwelve seeks to foster creativity, sustainability, and community. The project is in the beginning stages but I’m excited to see how it progresses.

When I was growing up, I was always told I’d have to leave Oklahoma to really find worthwhile dance, theater, live music, art, and culture. Much less anything innovative or experimental. But it turns out that Oklahoma City has a pretty rich performing arts history wrapped up in such institutions as City Arts Center, Lyric Theater, Carpenter Square Theater, Canterbury Choral Society, Oklahoma City Ballet, Reduxion Theater (OKC’s newest theater company), and the infamous Stage Center.

Actually, most of my childhood dance training happened in the basement studios of Stage Center, an architectural innovation in itself. The building’s exterior reminds me of a spaceship or some kooky science invention, with its multi-colored cement blocks and serpentine connectors. And the building’s interior was like a maze, ripe for childlike imagination and adventure. Sadly, last summer’s torrential rains flooded Stage Center and the beloved building will likely be demolished in the near future.

Allied Arts and the Oklahoma Arts Council, the two largest funding organizations in the state, support quite a few of the nonprofit arts organizations here. Allied Arts has some great member agencies and the Oklahoma Arts Council plays host to Oklahoma’s New and Emerging Arts Leaders (ONEAL), an Americans for the Arts Emerging Leaders hub. My favorite ONEAL meet up is the morning coffee chat every second Tuesday of the month. I get to hear all about upcoming art happenings, new spaces and projects, and informally build my network (while dishing out some shameless plugs of my own). There are definitely interesting things happening here; you just have to seek them out.

18 Responses to “Shattering Teenaged Observations of My Hometown”

  1. Amy Young says:

    Thank you so much for mentioning Sixtwelve in this post. We’re really excited about all that is to come!

  2. tiffany says:

    my pleasure amy! it’s a great project!!!

  3. Kristen says:

    Thanks so much for posting! So many exciting things happening and we are thrilled to be a piece of it!

  4. Cornelius says:

    I felt the same disenchantment growing up and now feel the same excited anticipation about okc as you do today. Change is afoot and by golly it is inspiring what Oklahomans are making happen. This post hits the nail on the head ms. barber keep up the good work

  5. tiffany says:

    thanks for reading and commenting cornelius! i’m sure there are lots of others out there like us too ;) you should check out the other blog posts! art and culture in okc abound ;)

  6. Sharon says:

    Excellent article, Tiffany! I couldn’t agree more–OKC has many wonderful arts events and upcoming projects that all of us can enjoy!

  7. tiffany says:

    thanks for reading and commenting sharon! ok arts unite! ;)

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  9. Cindy Viol says:

    Yoga studio is now Roy and Karen Orr’s “Paseo Originals Art Gallery.” The masseuse is gone–it is now “Visions in the Paseo Gallery.” And behind Visions and Originals, next to Contemporary, the Hillers will soon be opening “Summer Wine Art Gallery.” Our little corner of the Paseo is certainly blooming!

    • Cindy Viol says:

      Mr. Fillmore abandoned Visions in the Paseo Art Gallery in November 2012. I was left the unpleasant task of closing down his business. Visions has been closed since December 2012.

      • Cindy Viol says:

        I should probably add that Paseo Originals is thriving under the visionary, ethical, and professional management of its Director/Curator, Tony Morton. Quite unlike the owner of Visions. And A Jeweler’s Art has taken over Visions’ space and it is beautiful. Visions has not been missed and its demise was a positive improvement for the Paseo.

  10. In addition to Cindy’s comment, the four galleries mentioned are directly across the street from the Paseo Grill (Great Food Here) and they are located on a little manmade creek. In October the four galleries will announce the opening of the Paseo Creek Galleries and Sunday on Paseo Creek (a new music venue). This new opening will give Oklahomans someplace to go on a quiet Sunday afternoon for great music, great art and even a picnic lunch on Paseo Creek. All four galleries involved have agreed to be open every Sunday from 1pm to 4pm (at least).

  11. Tiffany, Are you finding that natives who’ve left OKC for school and the like are returning?

    • tiffany says:

      hey hey letitia! i HAVE noticed that lots of folks are returning to OKC post-studies. you really can’t beat the cost of living. and the opportunities to create new, prolific projects and models are numerous. so i think that adds to the appeal of returning :)

  12. Amanda says:

    Film Row is also a place to keep your eye on with the relocation of IAO and streetscape improvements. 9th and Broadway just got Womb gallery which is owned and run my Wayne Coyne, Rick Sinnett and Jake Harms. This place is really going to put us on the map with the caliber of urban contemporary artists they will bring in from outside the state. The Plaza District also just got a new pub and local winery!

  13. Sharon says:

    Terrific article, Tiffany!

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Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.