About Living Arts

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OUR MISSION
Living Arts was organized in 1969 for the development and presentation of contemporary art in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We are interested in newly evolving ideas, in the creation of art forms, in exploring the relationship of art to other disciplines and fields of knowledge and in sharing its interests with the community by encouraging the public to attend and participate in creative workshops, performances, exhibitions, films, demonstrations of current art, lectures, related educational activities and research.

We consider art as a basic and functional essential to each person’s full development. Living Arts strives to help create an environment in which art may thrive. We are aware, informed and actively participate in cultural history-in-the-making.

 
ABOUT US
You can find us at 307 East M.B. Brady Street. We currently house a gallery, performance space, media center, education area and our main offices.

Living Arts keeps an active Board of Directors who are intentionally diverse in their make up. Directors are from both the business and the art sectors of the community and there is always one more artist on the board than non-artist. In addition to not missing more than two meetings in a row, each Director must serve on one of Living Arts’ Programming and Administrative Committees.

The Advisory Board is a separate group made up of key persons who are called in to advise or otherwise give aid to Living Arts in situations which arise on an as-needed basis.

Living Arts sends out a “Call for Proposals” annually and accepts proposals from local and national communities at large. Proposals from the community are presented by the Artistic Director to the Myers Gallery, Performance, New Music, Video, Education, New Genre Festival and Day of the Dead Committees, who then decide what they wish to present the following season. Their recommendations and budgets then go before the Board of Directors for final economic approval.

 
COMMUNITY ACCESS AND INVOLVEMENT
Living Arts is a nonprofit and open organization, encouraging the involvement of any person. It is funded through a broad spectrum of sources including: Memberships, Private Donations, Foundations, Corporate Charitable Gifts and Government Agencies. These sources are identified on all publicity and at each event. Our facilities provide barrier-free accessibility to the public with handicapped facilities. Living Arts does not discriminate in any way and takes an active stance on anti-racism and LGBT-friendship by providing programs which build “cultural bridges” between differing communities in Tulsa such as: Women in Video, Día de los Muertos Arts Festival, Issues of Race, Voices of Whole People and Drawing on Memories and many others.

 

HISTORY IN THE MAKING
Living Arts of Tulsa is the longest continuously run non-profit contemporary arts organization in Oklahoma. Formed in 1969 by a group of differing disciplined artists, among them Chuck Tomlins, Virginia Myers, Carl Coker and Max Mitchell. The group was incorporated in 1970 and received its non-profit status in 1976 with a mission of the “development and presentation of contemporary art forms” with specific definitions for each of these words.

On September 26, 1969, Tulsa Urban Renewal allowed Living Arts to create the original “Living Arts Center” in the old Dedmon Furniture Store, 124 S. Main Street, on a month-to-month basis. Nancy Feldman was able to secure the building for $1 per year. It housed a gallery, educational areas, studios for artists and a theater. Exhibitions, films, performances and workshops were held there in its short life of two years. The Southwest Film Festival was moved to Tulsa during this time and American Theatre Company grew out of Living Arts Theater. Chuck Tomlins was the first Director during this time, but many different leaders also emerged according to their different disciplines.

After the closing of the original “Living Arts Center”, Virginia Myers led the group from 1970 to 1990. Under her leadership, many important artists came to Tulsa (John Cage, Philip Glass, Joan Jonas, Robert Bly, Pauline Oliveros, Deborah Hay, Meredith Monk among the many greats) and many local artists were given opportunities to present their work, especially in the areas of New Music and Poetry. The group was housed in many locations during this time.

After urban renewal closed the building (making way for the Williams Towers), the group scattered. Virginia brought some of the group back together and officed out of her home on Oswego Avenue. All Souls Unitarian Church also helped the group over the years as well as a close tie with The University of Tulsa. At one point, the group officed out of the Carriage House at Harwelden but due to water leaks, the group moved to the basement of Harwelden. When office space was needed there, Living Arts moved back to Virginia’s garage apartment in the back of her house where it stayed for several years until TU allowed the group to have an office, gallery and performance space at the Living Arts House in the 800 block of Gary by TU. When TU needed the space and Virginia became ill, TU moved the belongings of Living Arts to an apartment around 5th and Delaware. Boxes and other items of Living Arts including files and history remained there until Virginia’s death. Franklin Wassmer, Laurie Spencer and Steve Liggett helped clear out Virginia’s house, garage apartment (made into a sitting room for meditation) and the storage apartment and found that the apartment had been burglarized and all of Living Arts’ video documents had been stolen. All of the remaining items were boxed in storage boxes and 34 of them were then taken to the Tulsa Historical Association where they were protected until 2004 when they were brought to the current Living ArtSpace. At the time of Virginia’s illness, Living Arts had curtailed its programming to just the Education Program which set up residencies in the school for inter disciplinary art workshops. Tulsa Artists’ Coalition and later the Tulsa Center for Contemporary Art had been formed and many of the key advocates for contemporary art were involved with these groups’ activities. Virginia had become very involved in Vespasian Buddhism and sitting with dying persons at a local hospice. During this time, Franklin Wassmer was made Administrative Director and Steve Liggett Education Director.

When Virginia passed away in 1991 and Franklin moved to Washington, D.C., the Board made Steve Liggett Artistic Director. Steve subleased from John Ridgeway & moved into the Brickhouse Gallery at Cameron and North Main Street (224 N. Main Street). He had been asked by Lance Scudder to fulfill the obligations of TuCCA’s grants with the Oklahoma Arts Council and was doing so out of various venues around Tulsa.

In 1992, Living Arts Board of Directors consisted of Mel Lee, Laurie Spencer, Suzanne Tipps and Miriam Spindler-Lynch. During this time, the board did not feel that Living Arts could accept the financial responsibility of the rent and utilities on the space at 224 N. Main Street. However, they agreed to allow Steve to personally pay for the bills, and in return, accept administrative fees taken from admissions and grants. The Board approved by a vote to establish Living Arts Exhibition and Performance Space at 224 N. Main Street in the old “Brickhouse Gallery”. It was approximately 1,500 sq. ft. and had a spare lot next door that we called “The Burn Out Space” because a building had burned down there.

Two years later, John Ridgeway decided to move back into the space and Living Arts moved to 19 E. Brady and doubled our space to 3,000 sq. ft. Many of the programs flourished in this space and we started calling the area “The Brady Arts District”.

In 2000, gentrification issues prompted Living Arts to move to 308 S. Kenosha. And it was in this location that Living Arts flourished even more with 6,000 sq ft. We established Living Arts Studios there, a larger Media Lab, and a 30’ X 65’ gallery space. Slowly the Board became more confident and in 2008 made Steve Liggett a full-time employee.

In 2005, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts made a site visit and invited us to apply to them for a programming grant. Living Arts was the first in Oklahoma to receive such a grant and subsequently this led to a capacity building grant which helped Living Arts grow dramatically. In 2008 we were made Partners of the National Performance Network and in 2009 hired a second full-time employee to become our Administrative Director.

With the encouragement of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, we moved the offices, gallery, performance space and education programs to 307 E. M.B. Brady St. in August 2009, 40 years after beginning the organization. In 2010 the Board voted to keep the Kenosha space as a Research and Development LAB for cross-disciplinary artists and to build out and renovate six additional private studio spaces bringing the total to nine affordable studios for artists.

The new program which may indeed work together with many of the organizations moving to The Brady Arts District, is to develop the Living Arts LAB into an Artist in Residence work space for research and development of cross-disciplinary art forms.