Oklahoma Contemporary
Annie Bohanon with Jeremiah M. Davis
Two people smile at the camera against a white background featuring the Oklahoma Contemporary logo

New Light

May 07, 2020

#ThursdayThree with Annie Bohanon

The longtime arts advocate on the value of supporting cultural institutions
Two people wearing sunglasses smile with their arms around each other
Annie Bohanon (left) at opening of Cloud City in 2016

With COVID-19 temporarily closing the doors of many cultural institutions, supporting local arts organizations is more important than ever. Whether that's becoming a member of your favorite arts center, engaging with virtual programming or just lending a spirit of support, many of us are currently looking for ways to give back to those connecting us through art during this moment of social distancing.

That's why we're doing something a little different for today's #ThursdayThree installment. Our weekly Q&A series usually brings you the voices of artists, staff members and leadership who make Oklahoma Contemporary special. Today we're talking to member and Bright Golden Haze presenting sponsor Annie Bohanon, a longtime supporter and arts advocate in Oklahoma City, about the arts' value in our lives.

Whether as a celebration or solace, the arts are a crucial part of what it means to be human. "It brings us out of ourselves," Bohanon said. "I certainly think it saved my life when I lost my husband. It's something that's so important to our mental health — as important as exercise is to our physical health."

That deep personal value is only part of the story. Oklahoma's arts and culture nonprofits boosted the state economy to the tune of more than $870 million in 2015, according to a study by Oklahomans for the Arts. Without a vibrant community of organizations dedicated to connecting people to meaningful cultural experiences, both our personal and public lives would be less rich.

With that in mind, Bohanon sat down to talk about the value of art, the state of Oklahoma City's cultural scene and why she supports Oklahoma Contemporary.

Why is supporting the arts especially crucial in this moment?

When you go to an exhibit, you see all different kinds of people who are looking at things through their own eyes. They may not be looking at it in the same way you do, but we can all enjoy it. I think in these times it is so important to find things that bring people together, bring thoughts together, rather than drive them apart. There's too much of that going on now, in my way of thinking.

Oklahoma Contemporary, in particular, broadens our horizons. You'll see things in Bright Golden Haze that you might never think about otherwise — the perspective of light, for instance, and the way it affects Oklahoma and its skies. It brings a whole different way of thinking about the world around us. Some people might think art is something you look at on a wall. Well, that's true! But Oklahoma Contemporary opens up so many other opportunities. You can take classes that might be focused on something you know how to do, or it might be something you've never experienced. So much is being offered to bring out different sides of a person. The offerings for children are especially wonderful — things they might not ever be exposed to, and many of those are free.

The new arts center is something that's going to not only affect people here in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, but I really believe when our country gets going again — if it ever does [laughs] — it's going to bring people here from everywhere for so many different reasons, not the least of which will be to see the incredible building.

How has the art scene in Oklahoma City changed during your years as an advocate?

The arts here used to be supported by kind of a small group of people, and it wasn't very well established. A lot of people didn't know what was going on. Through the internet, blogs and other things, people are being connected in a way that sparks their interest. I think the PR definitely has been better over the years, and Oklahoma City itself has really changed.

After what we call "the bombing," Oklahoma City really rose out of the ashes. Today I would say the art scene here is really vibrant. In addition to Oklahoma Contemporary, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art is incredible. There's wonderful theater here. I'm a big, big, big advocate for the Oklahoma City Ballet. I don't know how many realize we have people from all over the world wanting to come and take classes at the ballet. We have international dancers that are amazing. All facets of the arts have blossomed here. I think it's become a big part of people's lives.

What do you hope the future holds for Oklahoma Contemporary, and for the Oklahoma City art community writ large?

I certainly hope people will embrace the new Oklahoma Contemporary, and I hope that they will make it a part of their lives — whether it's through their children attending a camp or through volunteering. I hope people will help continue to bring in incredible exhibits to our community. I know the programming will continue to be new and interesting, and I hope it will continue to be supported, not only by dollars but by attendance. Like I said, I hope it will be something people incorporate into their lives. And I hope that that's true for all our organizations. I'm hoping that maybe during this period where we've all been separated, we realize how important the arts are to all of us.

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Oklahoma Contemporary membership arts advoacy philanthropy COVID-19 ThursdayThree

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