POSTED ON JANUARY 19, 2011:
Setting The Bar
Club Is Cornerstone of Revitalized Brady Arts District
First Friday. Club 209 The Arts Bar is part club and gallery and offers impressive, unobstructed views of downtown Tulsa.
It is hard to keep up with Greg Grey, the unofficial "Mayor of the Brady Arts District" on any given First Friday.
Officially, president of the Brady Arts District Business Association, Grey spends the six o'clock hour distributing the district's First Friday Art Crawl events schedule to all of the evening's participating venues as well as interested visitors he encounters en route to each venue.
Once business is taken care of, Grey spends the rest of the evening revisiting each venue to chat with artists, business owners and art enthusiasts, all of whom show up to contribute to the success gallery walk.
Grey's face is one recognized by all in the arts district and his presence has helped weave together the tight knit community of area business owners aided in the expansion of this revitalized area.
In addition to continuing his practice as an emergency room doctor for St. Francis, Grey opened Club 209 The Arts Bar more than four years ago at 209 N. Boulder. Tired of an abundance of what he describes as "teenybopper bars" throughout Tulsa's nightlife scene, Grey opened Club 209 as an effort to provide a more sophisticated place for Tulsans to have a drink after a show at the PAC or an evening spent downtown. In conjunction with his philosophies as a doctor, Club 209 is one of only a handful of bars in Tulsa that have always operated as a smoke-free establishment.
Club 209 attracts a diverse crowd linked through a common passion for the arts. Doubling as an arts venue, the bar exhibits the work of local artists on a rotating monthly basis. Grey is passionate about supporting Tulsa's emerging artists and offers his walls as a space for artists to hang what may be their first show.
January's featured artist is University of Tulsa graduate student Josh New, presenting a body of work called Hyper Reality. His second time to show work at Club 209, New was one of the first artists to exhibit work at the bar when it opened four years ago. New said the body of work he hung in that first show helped him gain acceptance in the Master's program at TU and now, with graduation just around the corner, New is back at Club 209. With photography as his emphasis, New's work is comprised largely of portraits that revolve around the idea of masculinity. Inspired by the perception of people we experience through television, New's portraits expose people in a heightened sense of reality in which they are stronger, prettier and more perfect than normal. In a larger piece titled, "The Gift," New has created a scene in which an attractive woman hands a group of men a meaningless object as a gift. The men wrestle for the object and, through a physical struggle, begin to devolve in terms of dignity and self-respect. In the end the woman receives the original object back from the men as a gift for her. New's work will be on display at Club 209 through the end of the month.
Three months after opening in April 2008, Club 209 began showing artwork on an infrequent basis before support from the bar's patrons encouraged Grey to begin bringing in a new artist each month. Before long, Club 209 began coordinating its artist openings with the Tulsa Artist Coalition and the Tulsa Glassblowing School to the first Friday of every month and the Brady District's First Friday Art Crawl was born. Now with the relocation of the Living Arts and continued expansion of businesses in the Brady District, First Friday is an anticipated monthly event that brings in all variety of artists and visitors. The number of participating venues varies month-to-month and has included as many as ten in one night. The local businesses and galleries that can be counted on to show or demonstrate live artwork each month are: Living Arts, Gypsy Coffee House, The Brady Artists Studio, Tulsa Glassblowing Studio, Tulsa Artist Coalition and Club 209 The Arts Bar.
Continued development of First Fridays is not the only change in store for the district. Transformation of the Mathews Building into the site for the Arts and Humanities Council's Visual Arts Center, as well as the Philbrook Museum's Annex for the Akins Collection will soon be underway. Each a $20 million project, both endeavors will unquestionably change the face of Tulsa's art scene. The vacant lot across the street will be converted into Tulsa's own Central Park with plans to turn the lot into a green space with a partially enclosed multipurpose facility that will support both musical and visual art events.
While a grocery and drug store are greatly needed before the District is truly self sustainable, the success of the lofts already in place has proven to developers that people are excited to live in an environment with an urban feel.
"We are already seeing the fruits sooner than we thought," Grey said.
With his hand in a bit of everything across the district, Grey still has a few plans to improve his own Club 209. Situated the west end of the Brady District, the patio attached to the front of the bar offers one of the most impressive and unobstructed views of downtown. Grey hopes to expand the size of the patio.
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