In its fifth year, the Blue Dome Arts Festival is scheduled for the weekend of May 16 through the 18. The festival is held in the historic Blue Dome district near 1st and Elgin. Taking place concurrently with the established Tulsa tradition of Mayfest, the Blue Dome Arts Festival is an alternative opportunity to see even more art during the widely popular Mayfest.
I spoke with Karen Greenawalt, one of the founding committee members about the Blue Dome Arts Festival (BDAF). Greenawalt, an amiable woman who obviously has a hankering for creative expression, filled me in on her personal history, and that of the BDAF.
"I am a financial counselor, or better put a consultant. However, I have this terrible problem of being a creative soul," she said with a laugh.
"I first got involved years ago with the Oklahoma Women in the Arts, putting on shows. One thing led to another, and here I am today."
Karen has a degree in Art Education and said her college did not prepare her for life after a university, and she found herself struggling to find her true calling.
"I chose photography as a specialization in order to be recognized as a 'real' artist," she said.
Establishing herself as a photographer, Greenawalt had the opportunity to get involved with the artistic community of Tulsa.
"I know a lot of artists, and I have helped a lot of them. The BDAF is a way for me to continue helping those artists."
Greenawalt told a story of a present BDAF committee member who got her start at Blue Dome.
"One of our committee members exhibited for the first time at the very first BDAF, and she has continued on, showing at local galleries. We would like to think that the BDAF is a way to help artists get to the next level of their artistic careers," she said.
Well how exactly does the BDAF do that? Having never been, I was curious to see how it differed from Mayfest.
"We have an emerging artist area, and this year, for the first time, we have the emerging musician stage," she answered.
Indeed, for the first time, the BDAF has installed a stage for musicians who have never been paid to play. There will be space on the stage to set up on a daily basis. Fifteen minutes are allotted for performance time, and musicians must bring their own equipment.
While Greenawalt didn't know much about the technicalities of the emergent music stage, she was able to expound on the visual arts offerings.
"Our emerging artist area is probably equivalent to the Mayfest Young Artist exhibition.
But our interpretation on that whole deal is different. Our emerging artist space is not just for young artists. You have people who, you know, the kids are all out of the house, or a spouse has passed, and granny wants to start painting. I want granny to be able to come out and show her stuff. I mean, Grandma Moses started somewhere!" she laughed, unsure of when Grandma Moses actually started working.
I was advised to google it.
"This is the fifth year for BDAF, and it is our largest cooperative effort to date with Mayfest. Most of our eleven committee members are showing in the Mayfest Invitational Gallery. We have done this is the past, so we at Blue Dome have always felt a close tie to Mayfest," Greenwault said.
Good to know. With rumors of a supposed rivalry between the two seemingly brother/sister festivals, it is helpful to recognize the differences and similarities between the BDAF and Mayfest.
Mayfest is a juried festival, while BDAF is not. Mayfest runs for four days, while BDAF is three. Mayfest has three stages, while BDAF has its newly inducted emerging musician stage. Finally, Mayfest is fun, while Blue Dome is cool.
With a resounding guffaw, Greenawalt responds to that final comparison with a dose of reality.
"I think we are fun, too! We are fun and cool!"
In the world of music, you have mainstream, radio-friendly stuff, and then you have droves of artists who reject all the big business in order to establish themselves as artists unafraid of selling less than platinum records and remaining true to their artistic vision.
This is an appropriate way to think of Mayfest and BDAF. Mayfest is the more established, traditional and mainstream. The BDAF is more "indie," if you will.
Greenawalt filled me in on the origins of the BDAF.
"This all started in Virginia Harrison's (a ceramicist) backyard. It was known then as Clayfest. And for the first two years, it worked. But then the gathering grew too large for a backyard, so Harrison met up with Michael Sager to bring the festival downtown to the Blue Dome District.
"He owned much of this area, so this was an effort to bring some much needed life to that area downtown. The first year was strictly Tulsa artists. We have since broadened our artist base, but recently, we have returned to an Oklahoma-centric roster of artists. We want the festival to remain small, and to have that "home-y" feel of the first year, you know, Tulsa artists and their friends," she said.
This year's BDAF will host about 100 booths representing regional and statewide artists. This is good and all, but what about the beer?
"There will be no beer provided this year at the BDAF," she said.
"We started out the BDAF with a free party. But that got expensive. So unfortunately, this year there will be no party," Greenawalt said.
No party! Where am I supposed to get my obligatory alfresco Boulevard Wheat?
"Well, we want to uphold a family friendly atmosphere. Fortunately, this festival is in the heart of the Blue Dome District, so there are bars nearby. For instance, McNellie's is having a micro brewery tent that weekend, so we don't condone drinking, but it will be around," said Greenawalt.
In addition to art, the BDAF offers food, belly dancers, street entertainment and parades.
Road Less Traveled
For the fourth consecutive year, Living Arts of Tulsa will host the Tulsa ArtCar Weekend. ArtCars typically involve transforming any type of vehicle into a personalized creation of art. The degree of transformation into an artwork depends on the artist. Some artists alter their vehicle with materials of a temporary nature, whereas others treat their ArtCar as a canvas and visually alter the car with paint or change the original structure of the body to create a moving sculpture.
Many artists have committed to participate, with ArtCars coming from all over the United States.
ArtCar weekend kicks off Thursday, May 15, from 5-9pm with "Cirque de ArtCars" at Liggett Studios. On Friday, May 16, the ArtCars will travel to local elementary schools and end up at the Admiral Twin Drive-In. On Saturday, May 17, beginning at 8:30am, the ArtCars will cavort throughout midtown and Brookside, and eventually make their way to the first ever ArtCar parade between Mayfest and BDAF.
A fun addition to this parade will be the Art Box Car parade throughout the BDAF. These will be cardboard boxes decorated as cars by local elementary school students. Prizes will be given to best in show.
"The kids and their creations are so cute!" said Greenawalt. "We try not to have rules, even though nowadays the BDAf is more organized. When you deal with a multitude of creative people, squashing their creativity by imposing rules and guidelines can cause one to miss out on great experiences. With that many creative types around, you never know what's gonna come of it!"
The Blue Dome Arts Festival takes place in the Blue Dome District, located at the 1st and 2nd streets at Elgin and Detroit. Dates and times include Friday, May 16, from 12pm-9pm, Saturday, May 17, from 10am-8pm and Sunday, May 18, from 11am-4pm. For more information, log onto bluedomeartsfestival.com.
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