Tulsa's visual arts scene is certainly on the rise. But where is it going and how fast will it get there? In recent years Tulsa's art supporters have been emerging from the woodwork to support ambitious ventures such as the Living Arts' beautiful new facility in the Brady Arts District and what will be the Visual Art Center in 2011. That being said, Tulsa still has a long way to go before appearing on any list as one of the country's most up-and-coming art cities. Tulsa is easily over shadowed by Midwestern cities such as Austin, Minneapolis and even Oklahoma City, all of which have a significant edge on what makes a city's art scene thrive. While it's a long way from becoming the next LA, New York or Miami, there is no reason why Tulsa can't rocket ahead as one of the premiere art cities in the Mid-West.
Being an artist myself and writing a column every week about Tulsa's art scene has given me relative insight into what is going on in our city and where our art scene is lacking. In honor of the New Year I've comprised my own "Wish List" for 2011 with a few changes I feel would help catapult Tulsa ahead as a city to be reckoned with in the art world.
1.) A substantial artist supply store. Let's start with the basics. Forget the beauty of an Oklahoma sky at sunset, there is nothing more inspiring to an artist than rows and rows of paints, papers and brushes to get their hands on before they buy. With not a Dick Blick or Utrecht to be found within 200 miles, ordering online takes all romance out of connecting with materials while buying from Michaels with a 40% off coupon provides no more supply choices than the first day of kindergarten. Zieglers is of course, the city's most valiant solution to the art supply deficit but, in the end, Tulsa's artists would not complain about a store that offered more art supplies than they know what to do with.
2.) Pump-up the art departments. Most thriving arts cities are fortunate to have a local university that offers Bachelors and Masters of Fine Arts degrees that teach students not only how to better their art work but also how to survive in the real world as an artist. By investing in a strong arts program, universities are producing talented artists more likely to stay in town after graduation and add to the city's population of talented artists. The University of Tulsa has a talented faculty and attracts gifted artists to its programs. However, the art department could definitely use some love from what appears to be a highly energized spending budget to build bigger studios for MFA candidates, bring in more visiting artists, hire additional faculty and create a more artist-friendly art department website. Changes such as these would help put Tulsa on the map as a desirable school for individuals seeking a top-notch arts education and consequently increase the number of talented young artists working in Tulsa.
3.) No More Starving Artists. There is nothing less inspiring to an artist than having to balance watching the clock before their next shift as they bring forth inspiration from their creative subconscious. A city with enthusiastic art buyers and collectors is a critical ingredient to the success of a city's art scene. The more the population supports its artists, the more likely they are to stay in the city, making more work and improving the city's reputation. Artists are not self-sustaining. They need supporters willing to purchase their work, even the large, pricey ones, in order quit their day jobs and support themselves solely on their art-making.
4.) Public Art Movement. While Tulsa can boast the monumental praying hands at the gate of the Oral Roberts campus and a series of woodsy animal sculptures along Riverside, it is tragically lacking in edgy, up-to-date public art works and installations. Cities who are investing in artists who can produce enormous murals or conceptual sculptures will always been one step ahead of the cities that do not. Not only is the installation of such works indicative of a city's support of the arts, but they become a part of the city's identity and forces the public to conjure an opinion about art whether or not they like it.
5.) Buzz in the blogosphere. As a writer for Urban Tulsa I do my best, but the city would certainly benefit from multiple writers from various perspectives contributing to the heartbeat of Tulsa's art scene. A centralized arts website for artists to communicate and learn about exhibition opportunities as well as a place for galleries to post press releases and events calendars would eliminate the perpetual uncertainty of what is going on across Tulsa's art scene. An online community like this would open the doors of communication between artists, critics and the general public by creating an energized dialogue amongst Tulsa's arts community.
The most fundamental key to success for any arts city is to produce and bring in talented artists and then keep them there! Tulsa is a city full of potential that needs a good shove in the right direction in order to pick up the pace and give local artists what they have always wanted...a city to call their own.
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