For others, it’s simply that building with the planetarium dome, although they may not know what goes on inside. For fans of The Flaming Lips, the interior may look familiar, as it was a filming location for the band’s 1999 music video for “Race for the Prize.”
The building has been home to City Arts since the organization was founded in 1989 by a grant from the Kirkpatrick Foundation. More than two decades later, the foundation that gave the group its start, and helped it thrive over the years, has its sights on moving the organization to a more visible location in a new building.
Where once the fairgrounds was a hub of culture, with City Arts and the Oklahoma Art Center, the group’s board saw that the center of arts and culture in the city had shifted Downtown. About three years ago, they began looking seriously at options for renovating an existing building or finding available land.
“We began looking more specifically Downtown at potential buildings that might suit our purpose,” says Kirkpatrick Family Fund Director Liz Eickman. “We came to the conclusion that building a new building was the best course for us.”
County records show the foundation purchased 4.5 acres at N. Broadway Avenue and 12th Street for $3.5 million in late March. With the land secured, it will provide a site that is in good company for City Arts: Allied Arts, the Oklahoma Arts Institute and the Womb gallery are just a stone’s throw away. Now the questions are: What it will look like? How big will it be? How much will it cost?
“It’s difficult to answer that until we address some of the issues of selecting an architect and putting together some drawings where we can get a real sense of pricing,” Eickman says.
While City Arts continues to offer exhibitions and classes for adults and children, to grow and prosper it will require a customized space that fits its needs, and to accommodate things such as year-round exhibitions of local, national and international artists. Mary Ann Prior was hired as executive director in 2009 to help with the transition. Initial plans call for the new facility to open in 2015.
“With Mary Ann on board, we began the whole planning process,” Eickman says.
Prior is a professional curator who last worked overseeing the corporate art collection of Bank of America at its offices in Europe. She says the programs and exhibitions at City Arts are top-notch, yet many have no idea it exists, have no idea where it is, or may think it is just a part of the State Fair.
“Our biggest problem at this location has been maximizing our audience. We do have some wonderful things we offer here, but attracting people to this particular place is quite challenging.”
Prior says the new building likely will be between 40,000 and 50,000 square feet. The available land also will offer the potential for future growth. The current space is about 36,000 square feet.
The new spot also will be set up as a place to grab a bite to eat and drink, as Prior says plans call for a cafe and a bar.
Access and visibility also will be improved. With students and visitors coming from around the state, the site easily is accessible from Interstate 235.
“We won’t be increasing by a huge amount, but we’ll make much better use of the space that we get,” she says. “It will be more tailored to our actual needs.”
–Photos by Mark Hancock