You Can Go Home Again - The Arts in Oklahoma City
I was born and raised in Oklahoma City and I grew up dancing. When I decided to get serious about a performance career, I enrolled in the only performing arts magnet high school at the time and majored in dance. Which led me to New York City where I earned a BFA in Dance Performance at Fordham University/The Ailey School. Then, I abruptly quit and moved to Los Angeles.
Coast to coast and back again, I returned to Oklahoma City a year after obtaining my Master's degree in Public Art Studies from the University of Southern California. The recession hit California hard and the arts sector dwindled. Instead of slaving away at Starbucks, I took a job as a dance educator in my hometown.
I hadn't lived in Oklahoma City for almost ten years, so my first project once I returned was to reacquaint myself with the arts scene. I went on a series of informational interviews with some of the city's dynamic arts leaders and nonprofit managers, and finally found my balance – I would teach dance by day and moonlight as an arts writer and organizer by night.
My dance education work with Prairie Dance Theater (PDT) has been nothing short of amazing, transforming the lives of local public school children and giving back to my community. PDT’s mission is to bring the innovative methodology developed by former New York City Ballet dancer Jacques D’Amboise to Oklahoma City and to get kids dancing. I’m honored to have been a part of PDT’s process, but my real passion is working with contemporary visual artists to realize projects.
As a board member and chairperson of the Film and Video Programming Committee at Individual Artists of Oklahoma (IAO), I've organized cutting-edge programs, participated in boosting the organization’s profile and fundraising goals, made new friends, and discovered more than a few contemporary visual and performing artists making compelling, provocative work - which is often a challenge given Oklahoma’s conservative and religion-centered climate.
Some artists on my radar include: Eyakem Gulilat; Sherwin Tibayan; Jalisa Haggins; Samantha Dillehay; and Tara Ahmadi. Most of these artists are current students or alumni of the University of Oklahoma’s School of Art and will be participating in Shifting, an exhibition centered on race, image and sound, the city, and the daily experience of urban life, that I’m curating at IAO next summer.
I also just co-curated The Promised Land, a solo exhibition of Eyakem Gulilat’s photographic work that explores the fractured religious and racial landscape of historic Boley, OK, at Urban Roots, a flexible, creative space where art and food intersect. Urban Roots is a great space with tons of quality programming, not to mention an awesome menu! Also, as part of the public programming for The Promised Land, we hosted a screening of All That Remains, a documentary short that chronicles the historic town of Boley and the generational evacuation that has riddled its landscape. Written and directed by a talented young documentarian named Crystal Kayiza from Jenks, OK, the film premiered at Oklahoma’s world-renowned independent film festival deadCENTER. It still amazes me how much art and culture is in my hometown now!
Another great resource is Art Focus Oklahoma, a bimonthly visual arts publication produced by the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition (OVAC). OVAC also hosts an online artist gallery, workshops and mini-grants, incredible group exhibitions, and the Oklahoma Art Writing & Curatorial Fellowship in partnership with the Oklahoma City Museum of Art...
But I digress. I’ve been writing for Art Focus since November 2010 and my recent artist profile, "Photo Recall: Eyakem Gulilat", made the cover of the May/June 2011 edition! Which I am still very excited about. Oh, and can you tell I like Eyakem’s work?!
All of these and more help me keep a pulse on artistic and cultural innovation in OKC, making me heart my hometown a tiny bit more.
My next two posts publishing later this week will focus on the arts in Oklahoma City and the innovative ideas coming to life here.