Oklahoma Contemporary

Media Release

Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center Takes its Place in the National Arts Landscape and Continues Oklahoma City’s Cultural Renaissance with Appointment of New Executive Director Trent Riley

June 24, 2024
An angular silver building against a cloudy sky with a structure made of shipping containers in front


Contact: Communications Team | 405 951 0000 | communications@okcontemp.org
Media kit: https://bit.ly/OKCCulturalRenaissance

Significant Exhibitions in 2024 & 2025 Outré West: The American School of Architecture from Oklahoma to California and Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds: Honor Song

OKLAHOMA CITY (June 21, 2024) — After just four years in its spectacular Downtown Oklahoma City location (itself a work of art entitled “Folding Light” by Rand Elliott Architects), Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center has taken bold strides toward claiming its place in the national arts landscape. The Center and its mission driven exhibitions, performances, classes and other offerings are also further cementing the center of the United States as an arts and cultural powerhouse, along with institutions like Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, its Bentonville, Ark., neighbor to the northeast.

A person in a suit stands in an art gallery and speaks to a group of people

On May 9, the Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center Board President Molly Tolbert announced the appointment of Trent Riley as its new executive director. Riley most recently served as Oklahoma Contemporary’s chief development officer. He is widely recognized for strategic leadership positions in arts development, membership engagement and community involvement and comes to his role of executive director with an impressive financial track record. As Riley begins his tenure as executive director, the organization is placing a renewed emphasis on mission, financial growth and providing contemporary art experiences to local, regional and national audiences. Riley holds a master’s degree in public history with an emphasis in museum studies and has written numerous articles for magazines and journals about art, history and culture.

“Trent’s successful tenure as chief development officer at Oklahoma Contemporary and deep roots in the culture of Oklahoma made him standout from an impressive field of candidates,” said Tolbert. “Our board is especially confident that Trent’s collaborative style and advancement expertise will help our state’s leading arts center fulfill its mission to encourage artistic expression through education, exhibitions and performance.”

“With arts education in schools at a critical point in society – and contemporary art the language of our time – our mission has never been more important,” said Riley. “At Oklahoma Contemporary, we have one of the most engaged and exciting arts campuses in the region, and I look forward to working with the staff, board and community partners to elevate its impact.”

“We are extremely happy that Trent has accepted the top position at Oklahoma Contemporary,” said founder and chairman Christian Keesee. “Trent consistently exceeded our expectations. His genuine commitment to arts education and the culture of our state made him an excellent candidate for this position. We congratulate him and look forward to working with Trent as this exciting new chapter at Oklahoma Contemporary begins to unfold.”

Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center’s 2024 and 2025 Major Exhibitions

Outré West: The American School of Architecture from Oklahoma to California

Aug. 22, 2024Jan. 27, 2025
Eleanor Kirkpatrick Main Gallery
Opening celebration and Curator Panel | Aug. 22

Outré West: The American School of Architecture from Oklahoma to California considers the works of a group of architects who were educated and mentored in Oklahoma in the 1950s and 1960s, and later developed groundbreaking design practices in California.

A building with a beak-like shape protruding from a triangular frame on a prairie

Herb Greene, Prairie House

The American School of Architecture emerged from the University of Oklahoma in the postwar period and became known for emphasizing individual creativity and experimentation. Under the guidance of professors like Bruce Goff (1904-1982) and Herb Greene (b. 1929), these students were inspired by everyday objects, the natural landscape and the designs of Native American tribes. While other schools in the United States were heavily influenced by the European Bauhaus and Beaux Arts models, the otherworldly archival drawings featured in Outré West show how students of the American School in Oklahoma transcended the accepted canons of Western architecture.

Projects like the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the fantastical Pavilion for Japanese Art on the Miracle Mile in Los Angeles demonstrate their imaginative approach to design. Through archival drawings, photographs and ephemera, Outré West explores how these architects translated their American School education into practices that continue to enrich California’s built environment to this day.

Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds: Honor Song
Opening Feb. 2025

A person with gray hair wearing a denim jacket and beaded medallion kneels on the ground

This landmark exhibition will be the first retrospective for internationally recognized artist Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne and Arapaho Nation) in his state of residence, featuring multimedia works from an impressive and lauded 40-year career. Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds: Honor Song traces the artist’s trajectory from the 1970s to the present through over 90 prints, drawings, paintings, glass sculptures, road signs, public art and site-specific installations, newly commissioned pieces and archival materials. Known for his thought-provoking and socially engaged art, Heap of Birds explores themes of Indigenous identity, colonialism and environmental justice.

The exhibition will feature numerous key pieces from Heap of Birds' body of work. Visitors will have the opportunity to engage with the art through guided tours, Artist Talks and educational programming designed to deepen their understanding of Heap of Birds' artistic vision and the themes explored in his work.

"We believe that art has the power to provoke reflection, inspire empathy and spark positive change," said Adjunct Curator Pablo Barrera. “Edgar Heap of Birds’ artwork remains an important part of the American cultural landscape, and supporting artists like Heap of Birds speaks to Oklahoma Contemporary’s mission to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the arts. We are excited to see how this exhibition will resonate with audiences and contribute to meaningful dialogue within the field.”

Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center’s New Home: Folding Light

Close up of an angular silver building

Designed by Rand Elliott Architects, the new building, which inspired the arts center’s 2020 opening exhibition’s theme of light and place, features a luminous façade that captures Oklahoma’s ever-changing weather and light. In addition to the 8,000 square feet of galleries for visual art, Folding Light includes a flexible theater space that seats 250, a dance studio and nine classroom studios. Campbell Art Park, the Sculpture Garden and North Lawn are outdoor spaces for exhibitions, programs and performances.

Folding Light is the centerpiece of the purpose-built 4.6-acre Oklahoma Contemporary campus, which will become a cultural gateway to downtown Oklahoma City. The grounds also include a renovated 9,839 square-foot historic warehouse (which houses studios for ceramics and fiber as well as metalsmithing and painting) and a three-block arts park, providing space for outdoor exhibitions, education programs and public performances.

In its new home in a more accessible location, Oklahoma Contemporary has increased program and class offerings for diverse audiences of all ages to meet the area’s growing demand for arts and culture. Two years after our opening was delayed due to the pandemic, classes and camps regularly sell out and programs like Second Saturday and exhibition openings continue to set new attendance records.

Major visual arts exhibitions anchor annual programming — inspiring workshops, conversations and classes to connect diverse audiences to innovative ideas and creative experiences. These shows feature the works of world-renowned artists from Oklahoma and beyond. Admission to exhibitions — and much of the new public programming — remains free. And the art continues outdoors. A sculpture garden features rotating works, and Campbell Art Park hosts large-scale sculptural installations year-round.

Sunlight glints off an angular silver building

Oklahoma Contemporary, formed in 1989 as City Arts Center by Christian Keesee and Kirkpatrick Foundation director Marilyn Myers, is a nonprofit organization committed to providing quality, accessible and affordable arts programming. With a mission to encourage artistic expression in all its forms through education, exhibitions and performance, Oklahoma Contemporary is committed to instilling in the public a lifetime appreciation of the arts and enthusiasm for creative practice. For more information on free exhibitions, class schedules and public programs, visit oklahomacontemporary.org.

More information can be found in the media kit at https://bit.ly/OKCCulturalRenaissance. Past press releases and information are archived at okcontemp.org/press.


Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center. Photo by Ann Sherman.

Trent Riley provides a tour of ArtNow: The Soul Is a Wanderer to City of Oklahoma City employees. Photo by Shannon Lockwood.

Herb Greene, Prairie House, 1961. Archival photograph. Robert A. Bowlby Collection, American School Archive, University of Oklahoma Libraries.

Edgar Heap of Birds. Portrait by Ted West on ceremonial grounds west of Geary, Oklahoma. Image courtesy of the artist.

Detailed exterior view of Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center. Photo by Rand Elliott, FAIA.

Exterior view of Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center. Photo by Rand Elliott, FAIA.


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Phone: 405 951 0000
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Oklahoma Contemporary
P.O. Box 3062
Oklahoma City, OK 73101

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