By Lavinia Creswa
In 2021, the readers of USA Today voted Oklahoma City as the best city in the country for street art. This national recognition would not be possible if it wasn’t for the hard work and endless support of Downtown Oklahoma City Initiatives, Inc (DOKC), which is a 501c3 non-profit organization. Kristen Vails, Director of Placemaking, says that its mission is “to do public art and placemaking downtown,” primarily raising money through fundraising events. From Deep Deuce to Automobile Alley to Midtown, DOKC is working to make our city beautiful.
In 2020, Downtown OKC was forced to turn its focus away from larger installations. Vails said, “When the pandemic hit, we were trying to figure out how we would respond through initiatives and activate downtown, so that we could attract people in a safe way. We thought that it would be interesting to see what ideas the community had—there are a lot of artists, creatives, and organizations out there that might have ideas on how to do this.” From there, the Micro-Grant program was born.
With funding from DOKC and Urban Land Institute (ULI) Oklahoma handling the application process, recipients of each micro-grant received $3,000 to bring their project to life and help bring the community downtown. These are smaller-scale, short-term installations that include everything from one-on-one performances to sidewalk chalk. In 2021, nine projects were approved, some of which can still be experienced.
Garden of Plenty by Marissa Raglin is a wheat paste mural in the alley of Plenty Mercantile which features the colors, textures, and growth that she and her son experienced in their garden during the pandemic. ACM Walkway Lighting by Nathan Hendrix and Stephen Tyler of True-Façade is a light installation using Pixel LEDs under metal walkways on the Bricktown Canal level. This will increase interest in the area, as it creates a brilliant backdrop for pictures, as well as improving safety. CW Think Park by Bekah Hammontree is a fun, interactive park that includes adult puzzles, a large tic-tac-toe board, and seating, directly in front of the Main Street Arcade. Come Together by Poet Laureate nominee and artist Angie LaPaglia and artist Kiona Millirons is a vinyl sidewalk mural that incorporates poetry by LaPaglia. This is outside the north entrance of the Downtown Library, and the poem focuses on the community coming together, especially after the pandemic.
These projects are thoughtfully created, with the goal of allowing social distancing, while bringing the community together.
For more information on these installations, as well as completed Micro-Grant projects, visit https://downtownokc.com/micro-grants/.
One previous recipient of a micro-grant was an interdisciplinary company of local arts called SPARK! Its immersive pop-up performances graced the city last summer.
Artistic Directors Nicole Poole, an OKC visual and performing artist, founded SPARK! – which stands for Spontaneous Pop-up Acts of Radical Kindness. The troupe’s leader hoped the project sparked joy, love and connection.
With SPARK! Poole achieved her longtime goal of assembling Oklahoma’s first soundpainting ensemble. Performances included about a dozen local artists from wide-ranging backgrounds.