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Shattering Teenaged Observations of My Hometown

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.

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