Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Contemporary Art on Wheels: Tulsa ArtCar

The weekend of May 14th, Tulsans may have been surprised to see some unusual cars winding through the streets of downtown. Living Arts’ ArtCar weekend may seem a little wacky to ordinary Tulsans, but people in the Oklahoma art community may just need to know what the ArtCar weekend is and where it falls on the artistic spectrum. I spoke with Steve Liggett of Living Arts about how the event got started. Liggett found out about the event from George Kravis, who had seen the largest art car event in Houston and suggested that the event would work well in Tulsa. Liggett said he was skeptical at first; he wasn’t sure how art cars fit in with contemporary art and Living Arts’ mission of "presenting and developing contemporary art forms in Tulsa."

The key element in the justification for art cars was the attraction that art cars had for people who were unfamiliar with the world of contemporary art. The ArtCar weekend was particularly designed to reach people whom Liggett refers to as “people of the trades,” who are skilled workers such as mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, and others. These people may work with their hands, but are typically unable to express creativity during their working hours. While this demographic may not frequent museums or galleries, the idea of art, when expressed in the medium of a car, becomes more accessible. The gallery becomes mobile. The event is essentially a parade, which showcases the art cars by driving through downtown Tulsa, lower-income neighborhoods, local schools, and stopping along the way at various points of interest such as the Admiral Twin drive in and Whole Foods. Liggett wrote, “We have seen a much broader audience relate to the art cars than inside Living Arts because the car is so omnipresent in our society.”

According to Liggett, the art car event marries public art with performance art. He cited some of the highlights of the last six years as Ooja, a green, fleshy vehicle with a line of monster-like faces peering from the top, and Sashimi Tabernacle Choir, a blue car covered in animatronic fish, lobsters, and sharks, who dance in coordination with various songs ranging from pop to opera.

The ArtCar weekend has been drawing Tulsans together for six years now, and although it may seem odd to some, it literally brings contemporary art into the streets. ArtCars are a national phenomenon and their presence in Tulsa links our state with what is happening now in the American contemporary art world. The next ArtCar parade will be May 12-15th, 2011. Watch for more information.

Guest Author: Shelby Woods, Intern

Images courtesy of Living Arts:
Top- Oolah
Middle- Sashimi
Bottom: Whirlibird

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