Paseo Arts Festival
Increasingly, Oklahoma City is an exciting place for the arts, as changes afoot in every corner of the metro open up opportunities for its creative class.
That vibrancy is nothing new to one resilient neighborhood that has been bristling with energy for decades, through the state’s highs and lows. The Paseo Arts District celebrates its continued role as the city’s historic art community with its annual arts festival this weekend.
Fairs and festivals are common during the spring and summer months, but the Paseo Arts Festival possesses a distinctive character because of the district’s unique heritage. When the Spanish village-themed architecture was originally built in 1929, it was designed to be a commerce area, according to Collin Rosebrook, owner of Paseo Pottery and this year’s festival chair.
“But the architecture leant it to becoming more of a creative area,” Rosebrook said. “The Paseo developed a rich history as being an arts district. People can really let their hair down and dress more freely and ‘artsy’ here. Because it’s almost that flower-child feeling, it makes for a small, quaint, homey festival.”
Although the festival has retained much of its block party charm, that doesn’t mean that the festival is lean on substance. There will be roughly 80 juried artists, two separate kids’ areas and a pair of stages for live music, dance and performance art. Rosebrook anticipates 40,000 attendees, which will be slightly easier to manage this year, since a new shuttle will ferry festivalgoers from a large parking area at First Christian Church, 3700 N. Walker.
Lori Oden, the executive director of the Paseo Arts Association, said the new shuttle is not only a service for attendees, but also Paseo residents who have to deal with the massive influx of people. She also pointed out that festival organizers partner with the Sierra Club to recycle bottles and other waste that otherwise would be clogging landfills.
Diane Coady, a Paseo historian and owner of Urban Silk, said that being mindful of the festival’s impact on the community is just an example of how the event mirrors the district.
“This festival was started by artists for Oklahoma artists in the ’70s,” Coady said. “The artists on the street play hosts to the artists in the festival. It’s a very comfortable and friendly festival, and the artists that attend the festival feel that way. They will tell us that it is often their favorite festival.”
Marvin Embree and his daughter, Erin Shaw, opened a new Paseo gallery in November. He sees the festival as especially effective since it takes place alongside permanent galleries.
“As a gallery owner, you are here year-round and make contacts with people who will come back to see you,” Embree said. “If you have a booth, your customers will only see you once. Having a gallery gives us some stability so people can come back frequently to look at our work. We hope to sell a lot of work during the festival, but also hope that they come back later and buy then, too.”
The festival serves as a fundraiser for the Paseo Arts Association’s various programs running throughout the year, such as juried art exhibitions and after-school programs where professional artists are sent to supplement existing art programs. Oden said that as the festival grows, these programs also expand.
This year’s festival attendees will also be able to see the continuing work on the Paseo Arts Factory, which Oden said is the “last piece of the puzzle,” because it was the last building on the strip that needed “renovation and love.”
Coady agreed that the building’s restoration is significant step for the district.
“When I came here 20 years ago, the Paseo was 50 percent boarded up, and just driving down the street today, you can see the difference,” she said. “When the very last building on Paseo has been restored, it will kind of complete Paseo.” “Charles Martin
Don’t just settle for the official festivities along the strip; the Scissortail Social Space, 3012 N. Walker, is just around the corner and will be hosting the Recycled Art Fair on Sunday during the Paseo Arts Festival.
Lauren Zuniga is a volunteer at the cooperatively-run community space and said that although the ‘Tail is not an official part of the festival, she considers it a part of the Paseo community and that the side event will enhance the festival experience.
“The Recycled Art Fair is just a chance for people to enjoy the art that ordinary life makes,” she said. “There will be nothing for sale. It is just a time to gather with friends and make art from things we collect from our daily lives. We will have plenty of things on hand to make art, and if you have art you would like to swap, you can bring that, too. If you make art from repurposed things, bring it, show it, make a deal for it!”
Poetry and music also will be ongoing, and Food Not Bombs OKC will be catering. The day’s events will be part of an ongoing mission to provide a haven free of commercialism, instead utilizing an army of volunteers to man the space, which includes a bicycle repair shop, lending library and a free computer lab. It also features community meals.
“Paseo Arts District is the beautiful blossom of seeds that have been planted for the last 30 years,” Zuniga said. “When our parents were young, they were hanging in the Paseo, making art, causing trouble. We hope to continue planting. People with lots of money shouldn’t be the only ones to enjoy the fruits.
“We have kids from the neighborhood that bring their bikes in, use the computers, eat with us. We have the guy that lives in the alley who comes in to get shoes from the free store and to chat for a while. We hope that we can nurture the community aspect of the Paseo, resources for neighbors to share, not just fancy meals and hip wares.”
For more information, visit scissortailsocialspace.org.