Around the Bends

Rand Elliott-designed Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center set to open in 2020

A rendering of Oklahoma Contemporary's new campus, designed by Rand Elliott Architects. (Courtesy Rand Elliott Architects/Oklahoma Contemporary Center for the Arts)

The Oklahoma Contemporary Center for the Arts will relaunch in January 2020, housed in a brand new facility just east of downtown Oklahoma City. Designed by local firm Rand Elliott Architects, the building is part of the city’s Innovation District, which plays host to many of the area’s top employers and industries. Oklahoma Contemporary’s new location will offer significantly expanded space for exhibitions, performances, and educational programming.

An undulating metal facade

Rendering of the centerpiece building’s facade. (Courtesy Rand Elliott Architects/Oklahoma Contemporary Center for the Arts)

The design of the new campus is inspired by the state’s distinctive landscape. The flagship building’s semi-reflective, aluminum facade undulates gently to evoke the changing light patterns characteristic of Oklahoma’s prairie climate. There has also been a concerted effort to connect the space to its surroundings. According to architect Rand Elliott, “Special attention has been given to creating the north-facing outdoor terrace with views of the Oklahoma State Capitol dome.” While the building itself will boast almost 54,000 square feet in floor space spread across four stories, there will also be a sculpture garden with rotating works adjacent to the building. The outdoor display area is supplemented by the Campbell Art Park next door, which hosts year-round exhibitions of large-scale sculptural work.

A cantilevering entrance awning

Rendering of the entrance to the new Arts Center. (Courtesy Rand Elliott Architect/Oklahoma Contemporary Center for the Arts)

Visitors to the Oklahoma Contemporary will be greeted by a sculptural port-cochère, followed by a bright and airy lobby replete with amenities, including a cafe and retail store. In addition to the 8,000 square feet of gallery space for visual art, a dance studio, and a 200-seat theater, a lounge space on the ground floor of the centerpiece building will also be open for public use. The campus will include an additional historic warehouse building, which will host close to 10,000 square feet of studios for ceramics, fiber, metalwork, and wood sculpture.

People walking inside of a white arts space

Rendering of the main lobby in the new Arts Center. (Courtesy Rand Elliott Architects and Oklahoma Contemporary Center for the Arts)

Oklahoma Contemporary artistic director Jeremiah Davis sees the new building as an opportunity for the institution to serve as “an important catalyst for Oklahoma City’s ongoing cultural and economic renaissance.” With a dedicated stop on the city’s downtown streetcar line, the campus will serve as a recognizable landmark for locals and visitors alike, complete with a design element known as The Lantern—a tower that will extend above the roofline of the main building and remain illuminated through the night. The new design also gives Oklahoma Contemporary the opportunity to more effectively fulfill its own mission of providing Oklahomans with uninhibited access to world-class cultural resources.

Established in 1989 as a community-oriented arts center, the institution has spent much of its existence in a smaller, less central facility at Oklahoma City’s State Fair Park. With the new building due in January, directors and curators at Oklahoma Contemporary aim to expand the center’s bandwidth for both exhibits and programs. In the first year alone, nine exhibitions and dozens of events will welcome 100,000 guests to the facility. As has always been the case, all of the center’s exhibitions and programming will be free to members of the public.

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