Interview with Executive Director of The Arts Council OKC
Peter Dolese has been cultivating the local arts for as long as he can remember, and it’s still all he wants to do
For Peter Dolese, there’s barely even a blurry line between where his work stops and his life starts.
“My life and my work are one and the same,” he said. “My work doesn’t even feel like work. When you do what I do, how could it?”
What Dolese does is head up Arts Council Oklahoma City as its executive director, a post he’s had for the past 13 years. This tenure of overseeing every endeavor of the Arts Council – from the nationally recognized Festival of the Arts to the Sunday Twilight Concert Series and all kinds of other arts-focused programming in between – and working to bring the arts and the OKC community together would be storied enough. But that’s just the most recent example of a literal lifetime of dedication to Oklahoma City’s art and music scene.
“As a child, I would come with my mom downtown to John A. Brown’s department store,” Dolese said. “My earliest memories really are of downtown Oklahoma City. I’ve truly always loved it. As I grew up into my teens, and then studied music at OCU, I played a lot of music and performed in a lot of clubs. My life has been an organic process where I get to grow and love the work I get to do. And to this day, I still love the work. “
In the mid-’70s, his professional life in the arts began with a grant-based job with the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, working with Arts Place as a program coordinator.
“I got my first dream job in 1976,” he said. “My job was to do a lunchtime performance series every day of the week. We had poetry readings and dance solos and live musicians and quartets. It really opened so many opportunities for performers in Oklahoma City. Downtown was bustling and it was such fun. When we brought back something similar with Art Moves, the Art Council’s downtown performance series, I said, ‘Trust me, it’s going to work.’ And it has. It has just blossomed just like it did before.”
In the ’80s, Dolese dabbled as a part-owner of a restaurant, but OKC’s art scene still played a major role in his life.
“I would take my vacation time and go help set up the Festival of the Arts,” he said. “I’ve been a part of every Festival of the Arts since it began.”
Dolese joined the Arts Council in 1989, working in just about every capacity imaginable, including serving as the Festival of the Arts Director for a decade. Then in 2008, he became the Council’s executive director.
“This is a career that chose me,” he said. “It was a love affair with Oklahoma City, really. The mission of the Arts Council is just something I’ve innately done my whole life. When you bring art and community together in the same place, magic happens.”
And as Dolese rounds up to half a century of helping guide and direct the arts community in Oklahoma City, that’s a lot of magic.