As an Oklahoma-based artist, Chad Mount sees the city’s creative class growing stronger and more diverse. Now, he hopes Uptown United, a new performance venue he co-founded, will provide a platform for local artists who want to explore, experiment and blur the lines between genres and media.
“Over the last few years, I have seen a lot of potential and a lot of ambitious people in this city,” said Mount, Uptown United’s artistic director. “I enjoy bringing together different ambitious people from different circles and then creating ways to pull them together to create a more powerful movement.”
Key to Uptown United’s mission is not just providing a space for artists, but encouraging collaboration and participation in the growth of the city’s creative community. Co-founder Sam Frederickson is the executive director.
“We are very much into the mission to cultivate the community, and so we want the community to cultivate with us and bring ideas to us,” Mount said. “As an entity, we want to spread the idea of the community being active participants in the development of our creative culture.”
Uptown United has two arms: the for-profit side, which will host arts events, and the nonprofit side, designed to be “a multifaceted environment that encourages the cross-pollination of visual and performing arts,” Mount said.
He also hopes to focus on social education, addressing issues like sustainability. The for-profit arm will donate space to the nonprofit.
“That means any funds that the nonprofit receives, our donors can be confident that those are going to our programs and not to pay our rent,” he said.
Uptown United has hosted everything from fashion shows and CD release parties to musical performances and visual arts. Its first event, on Halloween of 2006, paired live music with live art. As the musicians played, a group of artists created their own work on a wall of the space.
“The music kind of drove the art, and the art kind of drove the music,” Mount said.
Uptown United hosted similar events as the group developed and, after seeing them, artist Angela Chase decided to try a live art and live music combination of her own. She began volunteering with the organization and later was asked to join the board of directors. She said the venue provides another option for artists who don’t feel comfortable in a traditional gallery atmosphere.
“A lot of my friends complain about the gallery setting. It can feel intimidating, or like you’re putting your art in a box, or you only appeal for certain demographics. This is another way to get your art out,” Chase said.
It could also encourage newcomers to enter the arts scene ” some of the bands that have played at Uptown United have never performed in front of an audience, she said.
“They have the opportunity to play, and people enjoy it. After that, it’s like giving them the OK; they can go out to other places. Because a lot of people keep their music and their art to themselves,” Chase said.
Uptown United is interested in “exploring and experimenting, kind of pushing the boundaries,” Mount said ” an ability that’s often influenced by where you get your funding.
“Whether it’s from a family fund or whatever, a lot of things just depend on where you get your money from ” like how edgy you can be. We won’t be taking money from anyone who’s going to try and limit what it is we’re doing, or edit it or tame it down,” he said.
Mount doesn’t see value in putting on a show just to shock people, but also says the organization won’t shy away from art that depicts nudity, for example.
“We don’t have to worry about someone coming in and saying, ‘That’s a little too edgy,’ because it’s art, and it’s been art for centuries. And it will continue to be, and so, I guess the conservative class won’t be reining us back,” he said.
Uptown United is now working with an architect to redesign the space, to provide even greater flexibility for artists. The space will have movable art walls and a stage with rear-screen projection for movie screenings. The modular stage can be redesigned for everything from a concert to a fashion show, and the acoustics are set up specifically for musical performances or screenings.
Mount also thinks that Uptown United, located on Park Place, could contribute to the growth of the Broadway corridor, already home to the Individual Artists of Oklahoma and [Untitled] ArtSpace galleries.
“I think the area has the opportunity to be developed in a way that hits a mark that I think in a way Bricktown missed, to where there’s actually some cultural diversity,” he said.
Mount hopes to cross-promote the events and venues in the area, creating more foot traffic and fostering even more growth and revitalization in the area. The entire city, he added, is in an ideal position to cultivate growth in its artistic and cultural communities.
“Oklahoma City is very fertile, and if you have vision and ideas and the motivation to see them through ” and the abilities to get people together ” you can really help guide where certain things go. It’s a great time to be a creative person in this city.” “Lea Terry