2022

MCHAP

Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center

Rand Elliott Architects

Oklahoma City, United States

March 2020

PRIMARY AUTHOR

Rand Elliott, FAIA

CONTRIBUTING AUTHOR

Bill Yen, Steve Huey, Sam Haberman, Jack Hagler, Josh Livingston

CLIENT

Oklahoma Contemporary

PHOTOGRAPHER

Scott McDonald, Gray City Studios

OBJECTIVE

Developed by and for Oklahomans to present and explore the key innovations, issues and concerns of the art of our time, Oklahoma Contemporary is a multidisciplinary contemporary arts organization that encourages the exploration of creativity and contemporary art through a program of groundbreaking exhibitions, performances and educational programs. At its core, Oklahoma Contemporary believes that art is for everyone and places accessibility and education at the center of all programming. Exhibitions are always free, and everyone is welcome.

Our goal for the Center was to create a sculptural expression of the non-profit while crafting a dynamic mix of spaces designed to experience and create art across disciplines. Arts education is key to the mission of Oklahoma Contemporary and remains a core part of the organization’s work within the new Center. With expanded space and resources, Oklahoma Contemporary is able to increase their presence in the community, increase audience capacity, and allow for growth across each of their programs. The Center is designed as a series of flexible and changeable spaces that can adapt to their current and future needs; offering exceptional exhibition spaces, studios built to the specific needs of artists and performers, and classrooms that allow the institution’s team of experienced educators to function as never before.

“We want the building to create opportunities for discovery, inspiration, and to place you in an environment where you see things and experience things that remain with you,” said the architect Rand Elliott, FAIA.

CONTEXT

Founded in 1989 as City Arts Center, Oklahoma Contemporary is dedicated to providing accessible, inclusive arts experiences through free exhibitions, events and performances and by offering low-cost, high-quality arts classes and camps. The new downtown center continues and expands these programs as a cultural resource for our city, state and beyond.
This project began with an eighteen-month study focused on programming, focus group research, conceptual design, and fundraising. The study concluded by relocating to a downtown location among Oklahoma City’s attractions, workplace and residential areas, the organization could increase their community presence and achieve a much greater economic and cultural impact.
Located within the burgeoning Innovation District and an extension of the historic Automobile Alley, the site selected for the campus sat vacant for 20 years - an unused urban parcel with an adjacent, WPA park. Situated on a dedicated streetcar stop, the park was reactivated as a three-block arts park and the main structure was designed to establish the site’s position on a major downtown thorough fare.
The new campus was envisioned as a place for community to gather and to create and experience art. “Oklahoma Contemporary connects the art of now and what’s next to the state of Oklahoma and beyond,” said Artistic Director Jeremiah Matthew Davis. “The art and innovation of tomorrow will be forged through the creative connections between different art forms and ideas. We craft partnerships with artists and organizations to foster exchange and collaboration in a space all the arts can call home.”

PERFORMANCE

Oklahoma Contemporary’s downtown campus stands as a new cultural and architectural destination in Oklahoma City, a sculptural expression of the nonprofit’s mission to provide accessible, inclusive arts experiences. The 53,916 square-foot, four-story building, “Folding Light,” anchors the 4.6-acre campus which includes a renovated 9,839 square-foot 1910 historic warehouse (to house studios for ceramics, fiber, metal and wood) and a three-block arts park, providing space for outdoor exhibitions, educational programs and public performances.
On approach, visitors are greeted by a striking, sculptural building with a facade comprised of 16,800 custom-designed, recycled, extruded aluminum fins. The unique exterior shell is constructed from bright-dipped recycled aluminum, resulting in a mercurial facade designed to capture, hold and reflect the landscape’s dramatic changes in light and sky. A vertical, four-story Lantern illuminated each evening marks the campus entry and a sculptural canopy adds elegance to the entrance and offers guests protection from the elements.
The light-filled lobby includes the Visitor Experience, gift shop, café and the creative lounge. In addition to the 8,000 square feet of galleries for visual art, the building includes a flexible theater space that seats 200, a dance studio and nine classrooms. The folding exterior walls are directly reflected on the interior main gallery space creating different sized walls that allow both small and large artworks to be displayed. A flexible-use second-floor terrace can host receptions of up to 150 seated, while the building form provides shade from Oklahoma’s hot south sun.