Bright Golden Haze By Penny Snyder
Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center
The new Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center was ten years, 16,800 aluminum fins, 19-recently installed luminous and immersive works of art, and 92 staff members in the making, when, on March 12, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the ascendant arts organization to temporarily cancel all of their opening events. With only a small celebration for special guests behind them, the staff was left with a brand new 53,916 square feet building with no visitors to see it. In a state known for dust bowls, booms, busts, tornadoes, and tragedy, it seems almost unsurprising that one of the biggest cultural moments in the state’s history would not go off without a hitch. As Executive Director, Eddie Walker commented, “It’s hard to not feel like we were left alone at the altar.” But the Oklahoma Contemporary team responded with characteristic Okie grit and
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care for their neighbors and community. Even their cancellation (after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for COVID-19 scheduled to play against the Thunder) made out of concern for the health of the 10,000 people they anticipated taking part in opening weekend festivities, came before those of major museums and art centers across the country. Although the staff felt the overwhelming impact of closing right as things were planned to take off, Oklahoma Contemporary moved quickly to ramp up their digital presence through an online content hub called New Light. At the same time, they worked to devise a phased re-opening plan that would be able to safely allow some visitation to the new complex, albeit a fraction of the 100,000 visits that the team had initially predicted. Although a final date hasn’t been announced yet, Oklahoma Contemporary’s flexible plan will allow them to invite the public to see their
exhibitions and space, and participate in some educational programming, as soon as it is safe. “I look forward to the day when we can operate at full capacity. Certainly, I can’t wait to see the excited faces of our visitors as they experience, explore, and create,” remarked director Eddie Walker. “But more so, I want to see our team in action. I want to see them fulfill their individual and our collective destinies. We have really talented people, capable of so much, and they deserve the chance to shine.” During this surreal interim period, the Contemporary’s staff is continuing to work—while taking a much needed moment for recognition and respite; Walker and the rest of the leadership team declared May as staff appreciation month—and waiting to welcome the public back to a truly special and comprehensive art space for Oklahoma City and beyond.