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Filling the gaps and raising the bar for arts education in Oklahoma

Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center celebrated Oklahoma City Public School (OKCPS) arts teachers and educators Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, at a hands-on art-making professional development program.

“As a former high school teacher myself, I sat in on so many professional development meetings that had nothing to do with what I was actually [teaching],” Coordinator of Tour and School Programs Rae Stone says. “The arts were always an afterthought. I’m excited to be able to invest in the art teachers craft itself, and for them to come here and for us to pamper them a little.”

Thirty OKCPS arts teachers gathered at Oklahoma Contemporary for an art-forward day filled with engaging workshops and conversations among peers. The morning began with delicious Café Contemporary breakfast treats and welcoming remarks, including a surprise generous gift card for each teacher in attendance, donated by Oklahoma Contemporary Founder Christian Keesee.
An older white and Black woman sit next to each other at a table, surrounded by colorful wool. They are both focused working on a felting project.

“I like to say that ‘art teachers save the world,'” Kirkpatrick Foundation Executive Director Louisa McCune says, who spoke during the morning’s welcoming comments. “And I mean it wholeheartedly. I was so happy to be a small part of the arts center’s workshop for Oklahoma City Public School’s art teachers. It gave me the opportunity to express my appreciation for everything they do for students and our community. Art class in school must always remain an essential, valued part of education.”

Local artists and Studio School instructors Darci Lenker and Isa Rodriguez then led groups of educators through felting and Bad At Drawing workshops.

“This was a free opportunity for the teachers to advance and expand their art skills they can take back into the classroom,” Director of Education Jaime Thompson says. “The gift from Christian Keesee is further proof of this institution and the founder’s commitment to educators and education and the value and importance of arts education in the state of Oklahoma.”

Two people sit at a table, surrounded by colorful drawing materials as they draw on paper.

The partnership with OKCPS that led to Monday’s professional development program came from connecting and forming meaningful relationships with those whose impact typically goes unnoticed.

“We have been reevaluating our programs to assess what the actual needs of teachers are,” Stone says. “Through a teacher advisory group and working with teachers during School Group Visits, we have been able to build relationships and then learn what their needs are. And their needs, from what we’ve heard from them, are they do not have targeted professional development to help them grow as educators. We’re hoping to build a model where they can come in and learn with us, and we can provide that training with our resources and help them grow their practice, and in turn, they can mentor their students to continue their creative growth, as well.”

Stone along with the Education Department’s Teacher Advisory Group will be expanding this impactful program for a professional development opportunity in the fall, open to all districts.

About Oklahoma Contemporary 

At the new, state-of-the-art Oklahoma Contemporary, visitors explore art and creativity through exhibitions, performances and a wide variety of educational programs. At its core, the multidisciplinary contemporary arts organization is an inclusive space. Exhibitions and most programs are free. You are always welcome here.

In addition to the 8,000 square feet of galleries for visual art, Oklahoma Contemporary’s new downtown home includes a flexible theater, a dance studio and nine classrooms for Camp Contemporary and Studio School. The 4.6-acre grounds also include The Studios, a renovated warehouse that houses ceramics, fiber, painting, printmaking and sculpture classes. Campbell Art Park, our Sculpture Garden and North Lawn lend outdoor space for exhibitions, programs and performances.

After providing contemporary art experiences of all kinds for 30 years at the State Fairgrounds, these new, centrally located facilities dramatically increase Oklahoma Contemporary’s capacity to meet growing demand for arts and culture across our city, state and region.

Oklahoma Contemporary is a regional 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1989 by businessman and philanthropist Christian Keesee and Kirkpatrick Foundation Director Marilyn Myers.