Spotlight on ONEAL: Building Momentum from the Ground Up

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February 24, 2012 by molliveroneal


 by Molly O’Connor
Momentum attendees interact with artist Kory Twaddle’s, performance “Milk Bath.” Photo by R.C. Morrison
Festive. Adventurous. On the edge. These are just some ways to describe the experience of attending one of Oklahoma’s most unique annual art events: Momentum, an exhibition of new work by Oklahoma artists age 30 and younger. Presented by the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition (OVAC), this two-day multi-disciplinary arts event now attracts over 2000 attendees in Oklahoma City (March) and over 500 in Tulsa (October) every year. Annually, approximately 180 artists are selected to exhibit work at Momentum, an event that has been instrumental in the beginning stages of several artists’ careers.
Over the past eleven years, Momentum has grown exponentially and is now recognized as a successful and established exhibit that attracts art submissions from over 300 artists statewide. In fact, some college and university art departments now require that their art students submit work to this exhibit. But believe it or not, the concept for Momentum originated on a hot summer day in 2001 as a dozen twenty-something artists and art enthusiasts met at Stage Center Theatre for an informal brainstorming session. It was Julia Kirt, the Executive Director of OVAC, who had called us together in efforts to learn how OVAC could offer more support to young artists.

The first Momentum event took place January 12, 2002 at Stage Center Theatre in downtown Oklahoma City.

Recently, I met with Julia Kirt, Stephanie Ruggles Winter (Program Assistant at OVAC), and Alyson Moses (Curator of Education and the Capitol Galleries at the Oklahoma Arts Council) to talk about that first meeting and those early days of Momentum. Julia recalled how the idea for Momentum came from realizing there was a community need, and she knew OVAC’s Board of Directors were highly supportive in taking risks to meet that need.

Julia: “When I was hired at the age of twenty-five to serve as the executive director at OVAC, the board told me they were hoping I could get young people involved. After I had been there about two years, I saw what they meant. I saw a lot of people graduate from college and then they would just move away. Artists would graduate and maybe they would enter one of our exhibitions but then they would move or quit making art.”

At that first brainstorming meeting, Julia addressed the need to reach out to younger artists, and asked the group: “What do YOU want to do?” Several ideas were discussed, but all of them included a common desire to see cool things and new artistic endeavors taking place in Oklahoma City.

Alyson: “We talked about how it could be a series of events. I remember us throwing around the idea that it could be a like a Lalapalooza of young artists in Oklahoma City. It started out so undefined.”

Eventually the group determined that they would work together on a new arts event that would feature the work of young artists. Unlike many of the existing local exhibits, it would be open to students and geared towards emerging artists. It was to be multidisciplinary and exciting, something different than the established arts events.

Stephanie: “We were really worried that people would be bored. We didn’t just want another wine and cheese art gallery event. We wanted a happening.”

Julia: “And I would like to emphasize that we chose not just to have another fundraiser. I don’t think participating in the arts should always be about charity. To me it was important to keep the tickets cheap and the focus on featuring young artists.”

OVAC Executive Director, Julia Kirt (second from right) and Momentum supporters observe the work of young, emerging artists. Photo by R.C. Morrison

From the first meeting, the committee hit the ground running with their plan for a new event that would redefine the artistic scene of Oklahoma City. Stage Center would serve as the fun and funky setting for this first happening. The committee utilized personal networks and connections to pull off the first event, spending just a little over $800 to pay for event costs such as marketing and supplies. In addition to OVAC’s board of directors, the directors of the Arts Council of Oklahoma City and Stage Center were supportive.

Julia: “I think what’s key for ONEAL people. Leveraging every personal relationship that you can and learning to identify people that you wouldn’t even think of immediately. How do you get people involved that might have other networks? I was amazed how having some bartenders and restaurateurs who helped spread the word got us entirely new audiences. I know we were going to be happy if a hundred people showed up the first event, but then people kept pouring into the building…it was insane!”

Stephanie: “Alyson and I were sitting there before it started and we were both so nervous, wondering, ‘what if no one shows up?’ And then one of us looked at the door and there were people lined up in the lobby and waiting to get in!”

Alyson:…”And they weren’t just our parents!”

(Everyone laughs).

Spectators witness Chris Wollard's "Loki Ball," the art that destroys art. Photo by R.C. Morrison.

Curated by Debby Williams and Nikki Williams, the first Momentum featured the work of 30 emerging Oklahoma artists. Over 450 patrons attended the opening on January 12, 2002 which included interactive performance art. Musicians Donna Monarch, 18th and Olie, and Ambassador Bill helped create a lively “non-boring” scene. The committee members that worked so hard to piece together this new event were both surprised and pleased with its success. But for this committee, it was more than just an arts event. The experience of collaborating on a common goal created new friendships and played an important role in the careers of those involved.

Stephanie: “I do remember being so surprised at everyone that was involved in this. Not only coming together but being excited to meet each other…and they threw out their ideas and were so willing to give their time and energy.”

Alyson: ‘It kind of changed my perspective of everything, because when you’re first starting out you’re looking to get into a juried show, something to put on your resume. And we actually created something that goes on your resume. Now I see artists all the time with Momentum on their resume.”

Julia: “You really can create a venue for yourself. A lot of past Momentum committee members have gone on to become board members and committee members for other arts organizations. They are some of the best volunteers in town. A lot of them have gone on to be other staff members of other arts organizations.”

Author’s note:
On a personal note, I recall this volunteer experience as the beginning of something that would directly change my own opinion about the Oklahoma City arts scene. Newly graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, I was tossing over questions such as: “What’s next?” and “Oklahoma: should I stay or should I go?” Being part of the first Momentum committee was instrumental in both my work as an artist and in my career as an arts leader/administrator.  It was the first time I remember feeling that I had a personal investment in the arts and my local community. All in all, I’m grateful I did stay in Oklahoma and get involved in something that would only continue to grow and gain Momentum.


You won’t want to miss the next Momentum event, which will take place Friday, March 9th and Saturday March 10th at the Farmer’s Public Market (311 South Klein in Oklahoma City). To learn more about the event or to purchase tickets, visit: http://ovac-ok.org/Events/events_momentum.cfm

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3 thoughts on “Spotlight on ONEAL: Building Momentum from the Ground Up

  1. Love this article! My site, http://www.tulsaartspot.com , will soon be relaunching and I would love to do a cover story on Momentum Tulsa when they do their show. It was great reading about how Momentum came to be. Maybe I can contact you or reference this article when I write mine later in the year.

  2. Kory Twaddle says:

    Nicely Written, Molly!
    Keep the Arts strong in OK!

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