What’s New at Oklahoma Contemporary: Retail and Visitor Experience
From our new 53,916-square-foot building to a plethora of expanded education offerings and public programs, it can be hard to keep track of the many exciting changes coming to Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center in 2020. That’s why we’re interviewing staff members from all areas of our organization for a feature we’re calling #ThursdayThree — a Q&A series that will bring you inside the changes soon coming to NW 11th and Broadway.
This week we’re chatting with Garrett Colton, visitor experience and retail manager, who has the scoop on Oklahoma Contemporary’s expanded shopping opportunities and his growing team’s mission to make your arts experience unforgettable.
What’s your role at Oklahoma Contemporary?
My role is visitor experience manager and retail manager. I work to ensure your experience at Oklahoma Contemporary is great and memorable. On an average visit, our visitors are most likely to interact with our visitor experience staff — so it’s really important to get that right.
I also oversee our brand-new retail shop. The majority of the products in the shop will have a connection to Oklahoma — whether the maker is from Oklahoma or was inspired by a visit. We’ll have things that cross-pollinate with different departments, whether it’s our education team or the Bright Golden Haze exhibition.
Tell us more about the local focus of the retail shop.
I don’t want to look for those local connections just for their own sake — I want work that is really top quality. We ordered from Penny Candy Books, for example, out of Oklahoma City. Chad Reynolds [publisher] does great stuff. We’ve talked about holding some readings with the authors or Chad himself, which would involve the shop in our programs.
There’s also a book imprint company out of Austin called Trespasser Books that produces these really beautiful, limited-run art books by various photographers. One of the founders is from Edmond, so there’s a connection there. And a ceramicist in Norman, Simphiwe Mbunyuza, is producing some unique smaller works for us. He just had a show in Los Angeles. He’s super talented.
I want to have pieces that are truly unique to us — things you can’t find in other shops around the city. And I don't want to feel kitschy, either. You know, the same old thing. Even though the space is only 140 square feet, we’ll feature the kinds of quality products you might find in New York or L.A. or wherever else.
We want our customer-facing staff to make you feel like you’re part of the family.
What are the goals of your team as Oklahoma Contemporary pivots into this new chapter?
Even for me, going to a gallery or a museum can be intimidating — you know, with the sort of pretentious attitude you sometimes get. We want it to be the opposite, whether you’re just coming in for a coffee at the cafe, or whether you’re trying to buy a gift or check out an exhibition. We want our customer-facing staff to make you feel like you’re part of the family.
With this first round of hiring, there was a huge amount of enthusiastic college kids and young adults. This is a second job for a lot of them, but they’re really wanting to get their foot in the door in the sort of world-class facility we're creating here. It’s not kids who are just looking to buy some time and have your typical sort of mall-type job. It’s arts enthusiasts, some who have experience in museums and exhibitions around the world. It’s intoxicating to have that crucial team that’s just as excited as you are.
And the retail component is really exciting, to sort of have this space where people can take home mementos of their experience — whether it’s a coffee mug made by a really great local ceramicist or a unique print created by a talented artist from Oklahoma or the exhibition catalog.
Overall, I hope we break down that stigma for a lot of Oklahomans and travelers from all over. Yes, we’re showing world-class art and this building is top of the line, but we really want to make you feel welcome and at ease. And that starts with our Visitor Experience staff, who I think is going to meet that challenge head on.
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