Hardesty Arts Center still in progress but set to open Sunday with Oklahoma artists' work on display
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Thursday, December 13, 2012
12/13/12 at 10:41 AM
Just days before it is scheduled to open to the public, the Hardesty Arts Center is still very much a work in progress.
Ken Busby, CEO and executive director of Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa, is standing in the center of what will be the main public space of the four-story building that occupies the corner of Archer Street and Boston Avenue.
It is here that the bulk of the center's first major event - an exhibit titled "Concept/OK," created by the Oklahoma City-based Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition - will go on display to the public Sunday as part of the opening ceremonies of this $18.3 million addition to the landscape of the Brady Arts District.
There isn't much about the space right now that looks all that artful, however.
Construction workers move purposefully from one task to another - installing this, driving bolts into that, lugging this equipment over here, spraying paint way up there, leaving behind a residue of dust and debris that others endeavor to sweep into neat, easily disposable piles.
And on the periphery of all this industrial activity are isolated examples of art: a large abstract collage that looks a bit like a map and a collection of thin green lines, some of which extend out into space to contain a bright yellow balloon.
Come Sunday, the ratio between construction work and art work should be quite different, with artists and art lovers far outnumbering the men in hard hats and work boots.
But even though the center is taking shape - some works from the "Concept/OK: Art in Oklahoma" show are already on the walls, draped in protective plastic - there remains a great deal of work to be done.
"But it will be ready," Busby said, raising his voice to be heard over the noise of power tools. "We will be open to the public Dec. 16."
The Hardesty Arts Center is the latest venue to open in the Brady Arts District, the region just north of downtown that in the past two years has undergone a dramatic transformation into one of the city's premiere destinations.
It is also a culmination of a dream the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa has been trying to realize for more than a decade - a multi-disciplinary facility for the creation and presentation of art is all its forms.
In 2003, the council chose the Mathews Warehouse, at the corner of Brady Street and Boston Avenue, as the site for its proposed visual arts center.
When the George Kaiser Family Foundation wanted the building to house the Woody Guthrie Archives it had purchased, as well as provide space for other arts organizations, the Arts & Humanities Council purchased the land just south of the Mathews Warehouse for what would become the Hardesty Arts Center.
"It was important for us to be in the Brady district," Busby said. "Many of the programs we do are to help bring the arts to areas of the community that are underserved, and being in the Brady district would put us in the closest proximity to those with the least access to the arts. That is what this facility is all about - giving our community access to the arts."
The Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa provides arts education programs that include the Harwelden Institute, which helps train classroom teachers in ways to incorporate the arts in their curricula; Artists in the School, where professional artists conduct special workshops with students; and Louder than a Bomb-Tulsa, which encourages young people to express themselves through writing and performing.
The council also sponsors the annual Oklahoma Chautauqua; works with local social service organizations to supply arts programing to residency and safe homes, juvenile homes and community centers; and conducts summer arts programs for young people.
Each year, the council's programs reach nearly 130,000 Tulsans of all ages, providing them with direct involvement in the artistic process.
However, one thing the Arts & Humanities Council has not been able to provide is its own facility for all these artistic processes could take place.
"The thing is," Busby said, "you can't get messy in Harwelden."
The big house
Harwelden is the Tulsa mansion that has served as the home of the Arts & Humanities Council since 1967, when it was bequeathed to the organization by members of the Harwell family, for whom it had been the family home.
The Collegiate Gothic-Tudor style home atop a hill at the corner of Main Street and 22nd Place also has housed the offices of other arts organizations, such as the Tulsa Philharmonic and Tulsa Ballet, and has been the stage for everything from weddings to snow sledding.
Currently, Harwelden is home to the offices for LOOK Musical Theatre, Chamber Music Tulsa, the Tulsa Children's Chorus, the Hispanic American Foundation and the Tulsa chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Tulsa International Mayfest plans to move in to Harwelden once the offices of the Arts & Humanities Council move to the Hardesty Arts Center after the first of the year.
"The Council still owns Harwelden, and we will continue to use it," Busby said. "The programming there will likely be more oriented toward the humanities. And the house lends itself all sorts of events - chamber music concerts, our annual murder mystery, some gala functions. Weather permitting, people will still be able to sled down the Harwelden hill. And it will be available for rental."
Although, at this point in time, it would seem Tulsans are more interested in the council's new home. Busby excused himself to answer a phone call. After a brief conversation, he gave a tired smile. "Another call asking if they can rent out the AHHA. We're getting a lot of those these days."
Open door policy
AHHA is the acronym the council created for the center, pressing together the initials for "Arts" and "Humanities" with "Hardesty" and "Art."
The fact that "Ah, ha!" has traditionally been a phrase associated with discovery made it seem only more appropriate.
"In one sense," said Kathy McRuiz, director of the Hardesty Arts Center, "this place will always be something of a work in progress. We want it to be a place where people can come together and where the programs we offer will be a response to what is going on in the community."
One symbol of this commitment to artistic access and discovery is the design of the Hardesty Arts Center's lower level.
Three walls of glass doors can be opened to allow pedestrians walking along Archer Street to stroll through the entirety of the center's ground floor - through the special Creativity Studios where resident artists will be working, the main exhibition space and on to the garden area that separates the center from the still-under-construction Mathews Warehouse complex.
"When the weather is nice, we can have the entire lower floor open to the public," Busby said. "That will be especially good for events such as the Brady District's First Friday art crawls each month."
Artists at work
The Hardesty Arts Center will have offices for the Arts & Humanities Council, a library/conference room, a gift shop and catering kitchen for special events, but the majority of the 42,000 square feet contained within the four-story structure will be devoted to the making of art.
The upper levels will have classrooms and studios to handle everything from woodworking to photography, from painting to computer-generated art. The center plans to host resident artists at regular intervals, who will work primarily in the seven studio spaces on the center's fourth floor.
"We will want them to be Oklahoma artists, preferably Tulsa artists," McRuiz said, "and we will also have them teach and do workshops during their residencies here. It's just another way of reaching out into the community."
McRuiz said one of the first programs that will be offered at AHHA is what the council calls "Art Grabs."
"These will be two-hour classes in a given discipline," she said. "It's a way for people who have, for example, always wanted to try their hand at painting (to) spend two hours with a local teacher seeing what is involved. If they like it, we'll offer more opportunities for them to explore that further. And if they don't enjoy it, they've only committed themselves to two hours."
The facility also has a Family Lab to allow younger visitors and their parents the chance to explore whatever creative impulse they might have.
The AHHA is one of several facilities that gets a portion of the power needed to operate from the geothermal wells system under the Guthrie Green, one block away. In addition, the facility has installed a special filtration system that scrubs the potential toxic fumes generated by such activities as spray painting so that the exhaust is harmless.
There is also a good deal of actual greenery in the center. The garden area, which is terraced to create a mini-amphitheater for performances, is lined with sod. And a portion of the building's third-floor roof has been planted with a specially developed species of sedum, designed to withstand Oklahoma's occasionally extreme weather.
In addition, McRuiz said, "We worked with Bret Pfeifer, who was the lead architect with Selser-Schaefer on this project, to make all these gathering spaces throughout the facility."
These include terraces along the building's second floor and open-air decks on the third floor. The west end of the building, with its large white wall above a large terrace, will likely be used to for open-air movie nights, Busby said.
"The AHHA is a building that was designed to be used," he said. "And we plan to use every bit of it to help explore and showcase the arts in Tulsa."
The exhibit that will open the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa's new Hardesty Arts Center has been in the works for more than four years.
"When we first started talking about this," said Julia Kirt, executive director of the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition, "the idea was to create a huge, blow-out survey of contemporary art in Oklahoma. And we wanted the format of the exhibit to offer different avenues for audiences to learn more about the art and the artists - through artists creating work on site, to multimedia presentations."
The only problem with that idea, Kirt said, is the fact that there probably isn't a single venue that could contain it all.
"We have more than 5,000 artists in our database," she said. "So it became apparent very quickly that we couldn't possibly capture a full view of Oklahoma art in a single show."
Instead, OVAC developed what is now called "Concept/OK: Art in Oklahoma," which brings together 38 Oklahoma artists - 17 of them from the Tulsa area - along with five artists from Kansas City and one from Texas to create what organizers call "a regional art conversation."
"And the fact that this exhibit, which we plan to be the first in a series, will open a brand new arts facility in Tulsa is something we're really excited about," Kirt said.
"Concept/OK" is in three parts. The largest aspect is the Survey exhibit, made up of work by more than 30 artists.
"We had 144 artists apply for the 30 slots we had," Kirt said. "The artists the curators selected for this portion of the exhibit we think provide a good snapshot of the variety of work Oklahoma artists are doing."
The second aspect includes four Focus artists from Oklahoma, along with the artists from Kansas City and Texas.
"The Focus artists are doing work that really speaks to what it means to live today and dealing with the information age," Kirt said. "(Tulsa artist) Grace Grothaus, for example, is all about using technology to augment reality, while Aaron Hauck deals with ideas about our consumerist culture with sculptures that look almost machine-made."
Another Focus artist, Geoffrey Krawczyk, had crafted a large cedar table on which he has etched a map of Oklahoma showing the original tribal regions of Indian Territory, from which food will be served during the opening of the exhibit.
The third aspect of the exhibit is the work of the Residency artists, whose work grows out of the time they have spent in Tulsa.
Narciso Arguelles is a photographer from Edmond, whose work deals with the politically and emotionally charged intersections between Anglo and Latino cultures. Oklahoma City artist Sarah Hearn's work uses art to bring an element of humanity to scientific ideas. And Texas artist Gregory Ruppe is a sculptor whose installations often combine absurd humor with explorations of cultural identity - evidenced by the installation of pianos in the AHHA's garden area.
The work by the four Oklahoma Focus artists will travel to a Kansas City venue in March for an exhibit there. However, the complete "Concept/OK" exhibit will be seen only in Tulsa at the Hardesty Arts Center. It will be on display through Feb. 16.
Ribbon cutting ceremony begins at 1 p.m. Sunday
Artists awards and gallery talk by curators of the "Concept/OK: Art in Oklahoma" at 3 p.m.
Building will be open to the public until 5 p.m. Tours will be led by members of Selser Schaefer Architects.
Family activities will be offered in the Family Lab.
Artists and students will demonstrate art-making processes in the various studios.
Residency artists with the "Concept/OK" exhibit will be on site creating work in the first-floor studios.
Original Print Headline: State of the Art
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
Construction continues at Hardesty Arts Center just days before it opens to the public. CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
An art installation including an oversized balloon secured with tape is on display at the Hardesty Arts Center. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
Construction continues at a frantic pace just days before the opening of the Hardesty Arts Center. "But it will be ready," says Ken Busby, raising his voice to be heard over the noise of power tools. "We will be open to the public Dec. 16." CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
Work continues on the new Hardesty Arts Center around an installation of two pianos by Gregory Ruppe. CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
An art installation hangs in the hallway of the new Hardesty Arts Center as part of the "Concept/OK: Art in Oklahoma" show. CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World