By Payton Hayes
In fall 2019, Rose State students enrolled in Dr. Suzanne Thomas’ mural class met with Pablo Barrera from Oklahoma Contemporary to discuss their new location and public art project, Making Space, where fence line murals decorated the construction site of the new building.
I was one of the students who went to see the murals in person and learn about Oklahoma Contemporary’s vision for their new location and continuation of the mural series in the future. Barrera has numerous plans for Oklahoma Contemporary in 2020.
Barrera said that through this series, he has observed Oklahoma City and neighboring towns have a wealth of artists waiting for an opportunity to showcase their artist abilities.
“I have also come to admire Oklahoma City’s spirit of collaboration, and I have learned that we are ready for the types of conversations these underrepresented voices carry,” Barrera said. “We are giving artists a chance to share incredible perspectives, but we are also giving the city a chance to appreciate the complex, wonderful diversity that makes Oklahoma City’s visual culture so special. These artists are making OKC beautiful, both literally and as a community.”
According to Barrera, “Making Space: Summer Mural Series” was designed to support emerging artists through mentorship in order to expand the number of artists contributing to Oklahoma City’s visual culture.
“‘Making Space’ reflects a new version of ‘Guerrilla Art Park,’ an annual exhibition of outdoor public art by Oklahoma artists, held in the summers of 2016, 2017 and 2018,” Barrera said. “The mural series shares ‘Guerrilla Art Park's’ goals: to showcase local talent, give artists an opportunity to grow and develop their skills and offer free public art to enrich downtown Oklahoma City. The series of murals came in two phases of three murals each, in June and September 2019.”
During summer and fall 2019, Oklahoma Contemporary’s former space at the State Fairgrounds was closed in preparation for the move into their new building site this previous winter. This left a sort of “art vacuum” for the OKC area as Oklahoma Contemporary would not be able to offer exhibitions to the public during the months leading up to their move to the new site.
Barrera said they saw an opportunity to provide the public with free access to art, whilst supporting the local art scene by displaying a series of murals along the construction fence of their new location.
“In this way, our new home was able to provide art experiences for OKC before its doors even opened,” he said.
The murals on display during the class’ visit, were done by mentoring artist Brooke Rowlands (with emerging artist Shakurah Maynard) and Kris "GERM" Ermey (with Jonathan De Luna), and NiCole Hatfield, a contemporary and Native American artist, who draws her inspiration from old historical photographs of tribal women.
When I asked how long it took to complete each piece, Barrera said it really depended on the experience of the artists, the medium and the design.
“In the first rotation of murals this past June, Tank Ramirez and his mentee, Iliana Barrientos, finished their mural in a matter of hours during our Second Saturday Live Painting event,” he said. “Tank is an experienced graffiti artist, so he could have probably finished it much faster, but as a mentor, he was making sure to give his mentee, Iliana, many tips and opportunities to develop her skills.”
On the other hand, some of the murals took longer to complete because of family and work obligations. Barrera said they tried to accommodate the varying life contexts that artists come from.
“Supporting emerging artists means maintaining enough flexibility to work alongside their lived realities,” he said.
Oklahoma Contemporary paired several artists with different styles and levels of experience to blend two art styles and form a cohesive mural, allowing the budding artist to step out of their comfort zone and play with styles under the guidance of the mentoring artist. However, this selection process was not random — the artists were intentionally paired off in ways that complimented their combined styles and played to their strengths, while keeping a wide range of mediums and techniques in mind.
Barrera said that they wanted to show styles side-by-side that complemented each other.
“We researched each artist’s color palette, preferred subject matter and aesthetic, then we created a short-list of artists that could work well within the scale of the painting surface and share powerful messages,” he said. “In choosing the mentors, we looked for artists that demonstrated or expressed enthusiasm about helping a new generation of mural artists to gain experience.”
Barrera explained that after they’d done all of this, they then approached the selected artists to see who was available and felt strongly about participating in the project.
Both the mentor and the mentee artists can benefit from collaborating with each other, and in turn, the city also benefits from the increase of beautiful, public art. Barrera said this collaboration allowed experienced artists’ work to live on and provide emerging artists an opportunity to learn and grow under the guidance of the experienced artists.
“Every rotation of murals saw artists trading tips and networking for future collaborations,” Barrera said. “Emerging artists were able to witness the power of mentoring, and experienced artists were able to see their art as part of an inter-generational process. I imagine that if artists continue to harness this spirit of collaboration, the projects will become more ambitious and far-reaching. Also, on a practical level, mural arts become sustainable as more artists share their experiences.”
Oklahoma Contemporary is interested in continuing the project after the construction is completed and the new location is open in March 2020. Barrera said that in light of the success of the recent mural project and positive response and excitement from the artistic community, they’ve decided to continue the mentor/mentee pairing for a new rotation of murals throughout the year.
“We are in the process of setting up a mural wall near our new art studio buildings hopefully before the closing of the inaugural exhibitions, Bright Golden Haze and Shadow on the Glare,” he said. “Oklahoma has a growing and thriving mural art scene, and we hope to support this exciting part of our city’s artistic landscape.”
In addition to their continuation of the mentor/mentee mural series, Oklahoma Contemporary is willing to collaborate with other construction projects to integrate more artwork throughout the OKC area.
“We will always help Oklahoma City celebrate and support art in all its forms, and we are happy to lend our experience and expertise in realizing such projects across our communities,” Barrera said. “Our Curatorial and Exhibitions Director, Jennifer Scanlan, is involved in the Oklahoma Public Art Network (OPAN), which helps both artists and organizations work through the public art process.”
For more information, visit the OPAN website and Facebook page.
Oklahoma Contemporary will open the new arts center Folding Light, designed by architect Rand Elliot and built by Smith and Pickel Construction, to the public March 13.
The 54,000 square foot (10,000 square foot renovated) building sits on a 4.6-acre campus at NW 11th and Broadway in Oklahoma City and is home to a main gallery, classroom studios, performance spaces, community lounge, café and outdoor spaces. Folding Light was named so due to the way the metal exterior will reflect Oklahoma's ever-changing sky and breathtaking horizons.
Oklahoma Contemporary raised more than $23 million toward a $30 million Capital Campaign from more than 200 donors. These funds will support the new site’s construction and opening-year programs – ensuring that admission to exhibitions remains free for all ages.
Once the new facility is open in Spring of 2020, it will become a new cultural resource for Oklahoma City and the surrounding areas.
“This is a rare moment in the history of the city, and we want everyone to be a part of this major achievement,” Barrera said. “Oklahoma Contemporary expects the new location to be a hub for artistic experiences of all kinds and an event space for the city that is like no other. Tickets for the 21+ opening event are on sale now for $150.00 each and can be found on the Oklahoma Contemporary site.”
The event will offer early access to the art exhibitions before they open to the public, exhibition-inspired cocktails, a variety of hor d’oeuvres, live music and other events.
According to the Oklahoma Contemporary website, the event is providing a world-class facility for exhibitions, performance and education and a breathtaking addition to the OKC skyline. It will become a “creative commons,” a place for our community to gather, create and experience art. Arts education programs will encourage youth and adults to find their own creativity and learn new skills through classes and camps across multiple disciplines.
The 6420 is a student publication at Rose State College.