Local Gallery Living on the Edge of Art

Associate Editor

HEART OF TULSA: Posed here with a contemporary work by Aaron Peterman titled “We Landed On the Moon??? is Steve Liggett, Art Director of Tulsa Living Arts, the longest standing organization for contemporary art in Oklahoma.


Living Arts of Tulsa, located in downtown’s East End at 3rd Street and Kenosha Avenue, could be another one of those best kept city secrets were it not for the concerted efforts of artistic director Steve Liggett and a very dedicated board of art patrons determined to provide for the development and presentation of creative, cutting edge art in the region. Organized in 1969, it is the longest standing contemporary art organization in Oklahoma. Its mission today is much the same as when it was started by Tulsa pianist and teacher Virginia Myers.

Myers was a contemporary of the renowned expressionist composer, Arnold Schoenberg and experimental, chance composer John Cage and other Avant-garde musicians of the early 20th-Century. She cultivated a life-long interest in newly evolving ideas in the creation of art in all its forms. It was this drive that prompted her to garnish support from Tulsa artists Chuck Tomlins, Carl Coker, Max Mitchell and others to create a venue where truly original works of arts could be created and presented to the community. The result of this collaboration was a non-profit corporation that eventually became known as Living Arts of Tulsa.

Liggett’s definition of contemporary art is “ Works that are history in the making.” According to Liggett, “What one sees at Living Arts is not a redo of any traditional style or movement, but something totally unique and personal to the artist. This art requires from the viewer a curious mind willing to be stretched in order to ponder and connect with the message and the artist. It is difficult for some viewers to abandon familiar approaches to art. Here we invite them to give it a try.”

Artistic expression takes many forms at Living Art. Exhibits of political and social commentary and installation works not otherwise seen in Tulsa appear monthly in Myers Gallery within the Living Arts complex. The Living Arts Media Lab provides opportunities for aspiring artists to develop and present new forms of media art and produce the only local alternative television show–LATV on Cox Cable Channel 70 every Thursday at 11 p.m. Education is a large part of the agenda offering hands-on training and experience in interdisciplinary art forms. Living Arts provides space to poets, multimedia artists, new music or any type of conceptual art that is innovative and breaks new ground. It is a creative environment void of barriers including censorship. For those looking for the conventional and safe this would not be their scene. In fact, artistic expression that doesn’t raise eyebrows doesn’t really fit the genre of Tulsa’s only showcase for cutting edge artistic expression.

“We want the heat,” says Liggett. “We’ll take the exhibits other galleries won’t show because they are afraid of offending their patrons. Here the expectations are different and that’s the way we want it—free, creative, cutting edge artistic expression.”

However, Living Arts has worked in concert with many of the city’s established cultural and artistic organizations including Tulsa Ballet, Philbrook Museum of Art, Gilcrease Museum, The University of Tulsa, The Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa, The Circle Cinema and others. They accept internships for aspiring young videographers from area schools in their video lab and collaborations with Youth Services of Tulsa have created successful programs to foster creative youth talent. Many Tulsans have witnessed the energetic West African Drum group at events throughout the city. This ethnic genre of music came about due to the efforts of Living Arts.

Funding for the non-profit has come from many local and national sources. A few years back the organization was actually discovered by emissaries from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. who invited Liggett to apply for a three-year grant to support the Living Arts mission. The grant was awarded in 2004 and has helped Living Arts further its effort to become self-sufficient. The organization owes much to all the usual suspects supporting arts in Oklahoma such as The National Endowment for the Arts, The Oklahoma Arts Council, The Phipps Family, the Raymond and Bessie Kravis Foundation, The George Kaiser Family Foundation and the Zarrow Foundation.

The annual showcase event for the organization is The New Genre Festival held in March in venues all over Tulsa. It features evolving forms of artistic expression. It is art-for-art-sake driven and, according to Liggett, serves as a counterpoint to other citywide art festivals that have formulated more into commodity/consumer driven art shows.

The year’s Living Arts agenda is a smorgasbord of art events such as Video Evenings, showcasing the newest media productions. Enrollment is now underway for The New Arts Camp, an interdisciplinary arts summer camp for grades 5 through 12. Coming in July, Myers Gallery will feature an art show title “Sites Unseen” by Wes Janz, an architectural educator from Ball State University who collaborated with Tulsa artist Al Frakes. “Momentum Tulsa” a celebration of visual art, live music and performance art was held at the West End on Kenosha Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets in June. For more information go to: www.livingarts.org.

Staying on the cutting edge of local art in a provincially minded city like Tulsa for more than 38 years hasn’t been easy. The organization has from time to time fallen on hard times only to have a new generation of advocates step forward and bring new life into the city’s contemporary art scene. The organization’s location in the East End and the renewal of the downtown area are combining to pump new energy into the effort to keep creative, innovative art alive in Tulsa.

Updated 06-29-2007

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