Correction: This story initially contained incorrect information for the artists of the "Black Wall Street" mural. It has been corrected.
Alleys have been known to have a less than savory reputation, but if things go according to plan, the passageway behind downtown restaurant Elote, which extends from Sixth to Fifth streets, could become the city’s latest artful destination.
It’s an idea that began about four years ago, when Elote owner Libby Billings visited students working on advanced degrees in urban planning at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa.
“She asked if anyone would be interested in a side project,” said Kelly Cook, who finished her master’s degree in urban planning. “She was wanting to do something to beautify the alley behind her restaurant.”
Cook took up the challenge and created a series of before-and-after images, showing some possible ways that a block-long stretch of back alley might be enlivened with paintings, plantings, installations and other artful touches.
The project “kind of fizzled out,” Cook said, until this year, when Billings applied for a grant from the TYPros Foundation to help support the Art Alley idea.
“I’ve talked with my neighbors and building owners about the project, and they all liked the idea,” Billings said. “American Waste, which has most of the Dumpsters in the alley, are all for having Dumpsters painted into art pieces and the like.”
The Art Alley project is just the latest in a number of endeavors that are slowly transforming areas of downtown Tulsa into works of art.
The city has a long tradition of public art, beginning in 1969, when Tulsa became one of the first cities to require that a percentage of the cost of public building projects be used to purchase public art.
The Urban Core Art Project, founded in 2012, is dedicated to developing and presenting site-specific temporary public art exhibits around the downtown area, beginning with Kansas City artist James Woodfill’s “Tulsa Patterns (Firefly Reference),” which flickered over and around the corner of Third Street and Detroit Avenue for most of 2015.
Tulsa was recently named a finalist for the 2018 Public Art Challenge, sponsored by the Bloomberg Philanthropies Foundation. If selected, the city could receive a grant for as much as $1 million, which would be used for a public art project about the history of Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood.
But there is plenty of art to enjoy around the downtown area right now.
Take our tour of downtown outdoor art.
1. ‘Prairie Schooners’
Centennial Green, Sixth and Main streets
Patrick Dougherty has earned international fame for his massive outdoor installations built of carefully interwoven sticks and saplings. “Prairie Schooners,” his first installation in his home state of Oklahoma, was funded by the Urban Core Art Project, a local nonprofit dedicated to presenting temporary public art installations.
2. ‘Rotary Plaza’/‘Oklahoma Indian Ballerina’/‘Will’
Williams Green, Third Street and Boston Avenue
Tulsa artist Jay O’Meilia collaborated with fellow Tulsan David Nunneley on the five pieces that make up “Rotary Plaza,” a celebration of the work of the Rotary Club of Tulsa. On his own, O’Meilia created the “Oklahoma Indian Ballerina” statue in honor of the five Oklahoma-born dancers — Maria Tallchief, Marjorie Tallchief, Rosella Hightower, Yvonne Chouteau and Moscelyne Larkin — who helped revolutionize the dance world in the 20th century, while Linda Allen captured Oklahoma’s “favorite son” Will Rogers in an intricate mosaic.
101 E. Third St.
David L. Browne’s chrome abstract sculpture had its share of detractors when it was unveiled in 1977, but the now iconic piece serves as the logo for the city’s premiere performance venue, the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.
4. Mayfest murals
Hyatt Regency Hotel, Third and Main streets
Tulsa artist William Franklin began painting re-creations of the official poster image for Tulsa’s annual Mayfest in 2007. When the hotel changed owners in 2010, the original murals were painted over, so Franklin began again, this time using a kite motif for each image.
5. Center of the Universe
Boston Avenue between First and Archer streets
In addition to the sonic anomaly that is the Center of the Universe, this pedestrian bridge is home of Bob Haozous’ “Artificial Cloud,” a silent commentary on man’s love of technology and the destructiveness that can come from that infatuation.
A portion of the brick walkway has been transformed into the installation “Trace” by Tulsa artists Grace Grothaus Grimm and Geoffrey Peck. Pavers containing solar-powered white and blue LED lights either flash randomly (the white lights) or when stepped on (the blue lights). The blue lights then activate automatically after a short time, showing the path the person has taken, as if one’s shadow is following a few steps behind.
6. Hand print wall
Second Street and Detroit Avenue
The annual Blue Dome Arts Festival began this ongoing, interactive mural several years ago, letting visitors to the Blue Dome District leave a part of themselves behind, in the form of a hand print on the wall.
7. Woody Guthrie mural
Woody Guthrie Center, 102 E. M.B. Brady St.
This depiction of one of Oklahoma’s most controversial “favorite sons” is the work of Clean Hands, a Tulsa design company that has created a number of eye-catching murals around town, including the Bob Wills tribute on the back of what is now the Whisky 918 dance hall.
8. ‘Homeless Vet’
Spinster Records, 11 E. M.B. Brady St.
Tulsa artist Josh Butts painted this poignant image of a man pushing a grocery cart filled with his scant yet symbolic possessions in May 2018 as part of Mental Health Awareness Month. This alley between M.B. Brady and Cameron streets is also adorned with an image in honor of BookSmart Tulsa’s annual Bloomsday celebration and an untitled mural of a brightly colored oil derrick topped with a stylized Tulsa skyline.
9. Arbor Lights
Archer Street between Boulder Avenue and Main Street
Tulsa artist Chris Wollard’s series of weathered steel arches are lined with LED lights that are activated via motion sensors as people pass through them.
10. Arts Alliance
of Tulsa mural
The Hunt Club, 224 N. Main St.
Tulsa Artist Fellows Yatika Fields and Codak Smith collaborated on this epic mural evoking the various means of artistic expression.
11. ‘Tower of Reconciliation’
John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, 321 N. Detroit Ave.
Ed Dwight’s 25-foot-tall tower depicts African-American history in Oklahoma as a laborious climb toward freedom. Nearby are three other bronze figures, each based on photographs taken at the time of the Tulsa race riot, also called the Tulsa race massacre. These three figures also represent a kind of journey, from “Hostility” and “Humiliation” to “Hope.”
12. Day of the Dead murals
Elgin Park, 325 E. M.B. Brady St.
Elgin Park and other nearby buildings have served as the canvases for artists taking part in Living Arts of Tulsa’s annual “Day of the Dead” celebrations, in which people pay homage to lost friends and family with displays from the humble to the epic.
Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, 621 E. Fourth St.
Tulsa artist Mallory Taylor donated her time and effort to create this mural, which spells out “Love” in American Sign Language, after the center was shot at in 2017.
14. Habit Mural Festival creations
Gateway building, 860 E. Admiral Blvd.
About 20 artists, both local and national, descend on Tulsa each spring to create wall-sized works of art over the space of a couple of days. The newest crop of murals, created in May, greet people as they exit Interstate 244 at First Street.
15. ‘Black Wall Street’
Greenwood Cultural Center, 322 N. Greenwood Ave.
Kansas City artist Donald "Scribe" Ross created this mural, depicting events the celebrate the past, present and future of Tulsa's historic Greenwood District.
16. ‘When Friends Meet’
Oklahoma State University-Tulsa, 700 N. Greenwood Ave.
Oklahoma native Allan C. Houser was the dean of American Indian sculptors and is perhaps best known for his “Sacred Rain Arrow” that stands at the entrance of Gilcrease Museum. But this image of three abstract figures is more typical of his work.