AHHA Continues to Keep Tulsa Creative

Courtesy ahha Tulsa
INTERACTIVE INSTALLATION: Alton Markham’s “The Data Miner” is among the large-scale interactive installations in ahha’s THE EXPERIENCE: IMAGINE.

Not many years ago, I walked across the railroad tracks in downtown Tulsa toward a dirt-filled lot at Boston and Archer to attend the groundbreaking for a new arts center. The Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa was about to get a new home.
If anyone had doubts about what would take shape using the $18.3 million raised for the Arts & Humanities Council project, they were relieved and delighted a year later when “ahha” Hardesty Arts Center opened. It was 42,000-square feet of open, loft-like space with an air of industrial chic. Devoted to the creation of art, ahha included galleries and classrooms, and studios for artists, along with facilities for printmaking and photography. The multi-level, Cor-Ten-steel-wrapped structure filled a void. Prior to the arts-devastating pandemic in 2020, ahha served 130,000 school children and adults yearly with its multitude of programs and outreach.
“Ahha’s Tulsa mission is to keep Tulsa Creative,” explains ahha Executive Director Holly Becker. “Our long-term vision is a culturally aware city where the lives of all citizens are enriched by access to and participation in a diverse spectrum of arts and humanities experiences at the ahha Hardesty Center as well as in schools, in the workplace, and in neighborhoods,”
Although ahha was closed from March 16 through July 1 in 2020, it has reopened to the public with limited attendance and safety measures in place. One semi-permanent exhibition now welcoming arts enthusiasts is THE EXPERIENCE: IMAGINE, consisting of large-scale, interactive art zones created by six Tulsa artists.
One zone titled “Together,” by artist Andy Arkley, comprises sculpture and animation in which up to four people at a control panel can trigger synchronized music and lights to channel their individual input into a collaborative creation. Justice Gutierrez’s “Woo” also incorporates lights and sound for a “sensory-forward experience based on the feeling of euphoria.” Inspired by stories about woods, Katherine Hair designed “Grow,” an installation that immerses viewers in an indoor environment, and then transports them outside to a forest. Alton Markham explores a topic that is on most people’s minds with “The Data Miner.” The “experience” examines the pervasive and often privacy-assaulting practice of collecting and using the public’s personal data without consent.
Two other zones in THE EXPERIENCE: IMAGINE are Emily Simonds’ “The Tempest’s Parallax” and John White’s “Into the Wormhole.” Both are concerned with exploring the great beyond of space in thrilling and fanciful ways.
“A great many things give me satisfaction in my role at ahha,” enthuses Becker. “Right now, one of my greatest joys is hearing people’s reactions when they walk into THE EXPERIENCE for the first time. My office is on the second floor, where THE EXPERIENCE is installed. In fact, I’m right behind the spaceship. I love saying that. Because of where I work, I get to hear people gasp and shout when they see the art. I especially love to hear kids in complete amazement and joy! It makes my day every time and reminds me that this is what it’s all about — helping people find meaning and develop their own creativity through out-of-this-world installations.”
Another attraction at ahha is the chalk mural series on the building’s exterior called “Messages of Hope and Reconciliation.” Each month a different black artist is featured, leading up to the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial this year. Passersby have been leaving their own chalk drawings or messages on ahha’s steel walls for some time. “After experiencing the popularity of chalk art for guests, we started to view the exterior of the building as another canvas for artists,” explained Becker. “Through the chalk murals, we bring the art from inside the walls to the outside for everyone to enjoy.”
Coming to ahha on Thursday evenings in April is “The Greenwood District Then and Now,” a virtual class series, conducted by Crystal Patrick, celebrating the strength and resiliency of the inhabitants of Greenwood, formerly known as Black Wall Street. In addition, “Revisionist Future” by Antonio Andrews, of No Parking Studios, and Alexander Tamahn opens in March. Says Becker, “The exhibit aims to channel the past energy of Black Wall Street into a body of work that envisions a more inspirational and just future.”
One multi-generational activity at ahha is THE STUDIO, located on the building’s third floor. It attracts all ages who come together to work on various projects and create. A professional teaching artist is there to assist, if desired. With more people beginning to attend events in the Covid-aware environment provided by ahha, signs of a return to a more relaxed time are being seen and felt
“Even in the face of all the bad news and uncertainty, the general consensus right now is hope and optimism in light of advances with the vaccines,” says Becker. “Organizations that are able to operate now with limited capacities, like museums, are experiencing a growth in interest from Tulsans and regional tourists. People are ready to get out and enjoy our cultural assets when it is safe, so there is a lot of enthusiasm as we look ahead.”
Only last year, ahha announced that it had teamed up with Tulsa Mayfest. That May 2020 collaboration, unfortunately, was forced to cancel. “We are cautiously optimistic about the outdoor festival occurring in 2021,” shares Becker. “We know Tulsans need the arts, maybe now more than ever, as we come out of the pandemic. We are hopeful that Mayfest may be an opportunity for Tulsans to safely experience visual art, music, and art-making again. Stay tuned for an announcement.”