The first time I drove up to the Paseo Arts District, I felt like I had stumbled onto a hidden city within a city. Colorful Spanish-inspired facades seemed to pop up out of nowhere in between the surrounding neighborhoods.
While it is a very small section of Oklahoma City – really, a few blocks of one street – the Paseo is certainly a community within a city, with art galleries, restaurants, businesses, and most of all, dedicated people- who work together to make the Paseo a quirky, welcoming cultural hub.
In this guide, I want to point out some of what I consider this district’s highlights – just a few of the places that give this area its character.
Although art galleries are the lifeblood of the Paseo, they aren’t the first things you see. Let’s start by looking at a couple of interesting pieces of public art that stand out on first explorations.
The Old Trinity of Paseo – Photo from the amazing Lynne Rostochil
The Old Trinity of Paseo – if you think that this Gothic Revival church building at the corner of 28th and Shartel looks out of place, well- you’re right. This building was constructed as an Episcopal church in 1842 in New Brunswick, Canada, and used in that capacity for over 100 years. By the 1970s, the church had expanded into a larger sanctuary and in 1990, the original was closed and dismantled. The late Oklahoma City photographer Tom Lee purchased the building in 2000, after only reading about it online, and had it shipped in pieces to the Paseo and rebuilt onsite. It was Lee’s studio and gallery until 2007, when Lee sold it to cover medical expenses. Trinity is currently rented for weddings and other functions, but its existence in the Paseo is a testament to Tom Lee’s vision and work.
Harding Fine Arts Academy Mural – a project led by local artist Nick Bayer and students of Harding Fine Arts Academy, the mural behind Rainbow Fleet Academy (30th and Dewey-ish) is a vibrant surprise for those lucky (or lost) enough to wander into the alley behind the galleries on the northeast side of the street. The mural, which was created in 2010, is a public art piece completed as a part of the Paseo Creativity Project.
Work of artist Chad Woolbright, displayed at Mariposa – Photo from the fabulous Lynne Rostochil
Onto the art galleries! This list starts from the south end of the district at 27th and Walker and takes you north, curving along Paseo Drive until 30th. There are 16-20 galleries at any given time, so I’m just focusing on a few.
JRB at the Elms – Kind of an anchor of the Paseo galleries, JRB features contemporary artists, usually with Oklahoma ties, in a spacious, elegant setting. The gallery building is a noted historic structure, built in the 1920s. Despite its large size (4500 square feet) the gallery is always packed and lively during openings. Work shown here ranges from traditional to boundary-pushing, but the featured art always has a professional polish to it.
The Avalon – This building is home to several different artist studios and shops. There’s fairly regular turnover, which means that there is always something new to explore. A few of the standouts are:
- Bone Dust Cowgirl – a funky shop on the 2nd floor filled with western-themed vintage belt buckles, jewelry, and more. I just say “more” like that because every time I go in there is something new and delightfully weird.
- M.J. Alexander’s photography studio – M.J. Alexander is known internationally for her portraits of Native Americans and her 2007 series of Oklahoman centenarians. She has also shot covers for Ms. Magazine and has shown her work widely throughout North America. Her intimate and vivid portraits are printed onto surfaces from metal to delicate linen, and the faces seem to glow with the apparent affection Alexander has for her subjects. Do not pass this up!
a.k.a. gallery – this gallery is the Paseo’s best place to see emerging local contemporary artists. Gallery owner Ashley Griffith doesn’t shy from either controversy or unique arts events and a.k.a has hosted events from the Feminist Art Project- Oklahoma Chapter’s “Dear Mary or Jari Project” to Romy Owens’ “Sanctuary,” a collaborative work by Owens and students from Edgemere Elementary.
An architectural detail which adorns Paseo Gallery One – Photo from the righteous Lynne Rostochil
Adelante! Gallery shows local and regional artists who work with Western and Southwestern themes. Gallery owner Cynthia Wolf is a photographer, folk musician, and a ceramics artist who is interested in Catholic-inspired images of the sacred. Featured artists revolve monthly and have included Prix de West artists and many more.
In Your Eye – Art galleries operate using different models. While commercial galleries (like the lovely JRB at the Elms) are probably the most familiar model, In Your Eye is a great example of another model: the co-op gallery. Here, each featured artist is actually a stakeholder in the business of that gallery, responsible for some of the gallery’s administrative tasks. In Your Eye has held group shows, fundraisers, and member shows.
Paseo Pottery – The studio and teaching space of nationally exhibiting ceramic artist Collin Rosebrook, Paseo Pottery is a great place to take classes, or if you don’t want to take classes but do want to have ceramics, it’s also a great place to buy finished clay pieces. Student work sells in the front-room gallery alongside work by instructors and professional ceramicists. This is a great place to find unique gifts and and begin or expand a young art collection.
Studio 6 – Another co-op gallery, Studio 6 is home to some of the most successful longtime artists in Oklahoma City, including: Michi Susan, Sue Moss Sullivan, and Regina Murphy, as well as featured artists (often sculptors) who rotate monthly.
Urban Silk – Diane Coady’s studio and gallery showcases her lovely wearable silk creations.
Fabric artist Marsha Green and some of her work at A Jewelers Art gallery – Photo from the Great Lynne Rostochil
A Jeweler’s Art – Jeweler Sheridan Scott’s gallery is also her studio. Openings feature her work and that of other artistic jewelers selling one-of-a-kind creations.
Paseo Art Space – the gallery space for the Paseo Arts Association, the nonprofit arts organization that organizes many activities of the Paseo. In particular, PAA produces the annual Paseo Arts Festival on Memorial Day weekend. A motley collection of PAA members’ work can be seen here most months.
Come for the art, stay for the grub!
Lynne says, “This little girl was celebrating her first birthday in the Paseo, so, of course, I had to grab a shot of her.”
Sauced on Paseo – recently reopened and under new management, the new Sauced boasts more seating, friendly service, and sprawling graffiti style murals. They serve a few different dishes but the focus is on pizza. The large patio is fun when weather allows. Basically, it’s a friendly, local place to grab beer and fresh-made pizza.
p.s. I hope their beer list grows a little.
Picasso’s on Paseo – the menu and hours are online, but I like this place for a few odd and specific reasons: good though small beer selection (they usually have at least one COOP beer on tap), ACTUAL vegan options, a grilled cheese sandwich with three different cheeses that change every week, and half-priced pizzas after 10:30pm.
The Paseo Grill – The higher end dining option on this street, if you’d like a nice place for a date or a quiet meal. The owners of Paseo Grill also own the new Sauced on Paseo, so now you have a little piece of trivia you can just keep in your back pocket for whenever you need it.
The Red Rooster – 30th/ Walker okay, it only serves food at lunchtime, and it’s not technically on Paseo Drive, but this list would be remiss without it. If you are peckish at happy hour or later, they will sell you bags of chips. But that isn’t what keeps this bar popular. People come to the Red Rooster for its come-as-you-are atmosphere and cheap pitchers of beer. Dogs on leashes are welcome here, which I think is a nice touch.
Some of the goodies outside of Craig’s Curious Emporium – Photo from the colorful Lynne Rostochil
Craig’s Emporium – is one of my favorite places to find an offbeat gift. They sell jewelry, Egyptian-themed home decor, seasonal items, incense, and suits of armor, which fit together oddly easily. If you are an incense fan, try their Faerie Wings.
Kathy’s on Paseo – a self-described ‘ladies’ boutique’ that specializes in jewelry and clothes for women. Some of their vendors are local folks.
Rainbow Fleet – a non-profit organization that provides childcare referral and other services. During First Fridays, the gallery sometimes shows work by local artists in high school and younger.
Paseo businesses also include the Oklahoma City office of the ACLU, architects, graphic designers, lawyers, and more.
WHEN TO GO
All of the Paseo galleries, and most other businesses, host extended gallery hours on the first Friday of each month. The First Friday Gallery Walk lasts until 9:00 or 10:00pm and is a great time to get to know the area and its artists, as well as a great time to eat your fill of cheese and crackers.
The Paseo Arts Festival – This three-day festival will celebrate its 35th anniversary in 2011. Each Memorial Day weekend, juried artists from around the state and country display their work in tents along the street, and two stages showcase performing artists all weekend long. In addition, the Paseo galleries are also open during this time, adding to the festivities with their own exhibitions, special events, and air conditioning.
Note: only the tents north of the barricades on Paseo Dr. and the regular Paseo galleries are officially part of the Festival.
There’s been a bit of turnover lately- businesses like J. Lielle hair salon and the Art of Yoga are now both gone, but other galleries are popping up in their place and something called ‘Paseo Plunge’ is currently under construction in the middle of the west side of the street. It looks neat so far. With these changes and the fact that most of the regular galleries host different artists each month, there is always something new to see, even if you have been to several First Fridays.
Some agitprop on a dumpster – Photo from the revolutionary Lynne Rostochil
The above are just a few of this area’s bright spots and truly, there is much more to see and do than is listed here. The Paseo offers art of all kinds, friendly and interesting people, and unexpected fun. So, if you like art, fun, or even cheese and crackers – come and explore the Paseo. You may leave inspired.
(c) Jennifer Barron All rights reserved. Photos (c) Lynne Rostochil All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce photos without Lynne’s permission.