New Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center Reflects Ever-Changing Light

In 2020, a new chapter began for the Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center with the opening of its stunning, new facility, “Folding Light.” In this video, architect Rand Elliott talks about the concept of the building and how it symbolizes optimism, being that it’s actually a piece of art itself.

Photo Credit: Scott McDonald of Gray City Studios

This guest post by Oklahoma Contemporary’s Director of Communications, Lori Brooks, introduces architect Rand Elliott and the many benefits the new building will bring to Oklahoma City.

Rand Elliott is more than the architect of Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center’s new campus. He’s an evangelist for the arts and for the organization, which recently built the new location in downtown Oklahoma City after 30 years at State Fair Park.

“The new building is energizing and affecting everything around it,” he says. “That’s what the arts do – they affect those things around them. They make things generally better.”

The new center does just that: It dramatically increases Oklahoma Contemporary’s capacity for free, internationally relevant exhibitions and programs and increases art access and education for Oklahomans, students, visitors and tourists.

Photo Credit: Scott McDonald of Gray City Studios

Inaugural Exhibition – Bright Golden Haze

Grand opening celebrations, originally planned for March, were scrapped due to COVID-19. After a five-month closure, the arts center recently began allowing limited public access to the building, which was designed by Elliott to reflect and pay homage to Oklahoma’s famed big skies and ever-changing light.

The inaugural exhibition also took Oklahoma’s light as inspiration. It’s titled Bright Golden Haze, lyrics from the first line in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s iconic musical Oklahoma! The exhibition presents a diverse range of artworks from nationally and internationally acclaimed contemporary artists who use light to create a specific sense of place.

“We are thrilled to welcome our community into our stunning new building,” said Executive Director Eddie Walker. “The building itself is an incredible architectural achievement and has allowed our exhibitions programming to grow in new and ambitious ways. I am also so proud of our staff and our amazing art educators, who persisted in providing Oklahomans with top-notch arts experiences throughout the worst days of the pandemic. Together, we can make experiencing contemporary art a safe, valuable and fun experience.”

Photo Credit: Brandon Seekins

Admission to Oklahoma Contemporary

Admission to Oklahoma Contemporary and all exhibitions is always free. Currently, capacity for all spaces is drastically limited, and visitors must sign up online to reserve a timed ticket. Masks are required for all staff and visitors over three years of age, and will be provided at request free of charge. Social distancing signage is installed throughout the building and outdoor spaces, hand sanitizer is provided, and all spaces are cleaned and sanitized throughout the day. A variety of free programs are either held outdoors or online.

Cafe Contemporary, open for curbside pickup and limited in-person and terrace dining, features locally roasted coffee alongside a diverse “contemporary comfort food” menu from Oklahoma City chef Avery Cannon. Shop Contemporary, which offers on-site and online shopping, showcases a unique selection of home goods, prints, textiles and accessories in collaboration with a variety of local artists and brands.

The new 53,916-square-foot, four-story building with a luminous façade captures aspects of the state’s ever-changing skyscape, reflecting and embracing the dramatic changes in weather that characterize the landscape. In addition to the 8,000 square feet of galleries for visual art, the new building includes a flexible theater space that seats 200, a dance studio and nine classroom studios.

Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center Folding Light
Photo Credit: Brandon Seekins

Cultural Gateway to Downtown Oklahoma City

The building is the centerpiece of the purpose-built 4.6-acre Oklahoma Contemporary campus, a cultural gateway to downtown Oklahoma City. The grounds also include The Studios, a renovated 9,839 square-foot historic warehouse housing spaces for ceramics, fiber and sculpture, and a three-block arts park, providing space for outdoor exhibitions, programs and performances. Jen Lewin’s Aqueous wound through the park this summer and fall.

“We see the new Oklahoma Contemporary as an important catalyst for Oklahoma City’s ongoing cultural and economic renaissance,” said Oklahoma Contemporary Artistic Director Jeremiah Davis. “Through a dynamic mix of spaces designed to experience and create art across disciplines, the new building has enabled us to craft an exciting inaugural program built to bring the world to Oklahoma and Oklahoma to the world. We hope this unique combination of exhibitions, performances, learning opportunities and community engagement inspires our visitors to see contemporary art in a new light.”

This is the first of a series of videos that YurView is creating about the Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center. Learn more about the arts center and reserve your free ticket to visit: okcontemp.org.

The Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center is a finalist for the World Architecture News award in the Civics category and is the only U.S. institution included. The awards will be announced in a digital ceremony, Nov. 17-19, on the WAN site and their Twitter.

Additionally, Oklahoma Contemporary has been nominated for the Blueprint award in the Best Public-Use Project – Privately Funded category, and is the only U.S. organization in this category. These awards are TBA in November.