Finding the way home

Can an innovative new approach to case management eradicate chronic homelessness in Tulsa? Local agencies are working together to find out.



(page 1 of 3)

In many ways, Tulsa saved John Ross’ life.

Before moving here in 2007, Ross was living in Oklahoma City and facing an onslaught of challenges. He was in a relationship with a woman addicted to drugs and alcohol. He was depressed, still carrying the emotional burden of a wife who died in a car wreck in 1981. He used drugs to numb his pain.

He says he felt so trapped in the relationship that he thought his only way to get away from her was to go to prison. Arrested for drug possession in 2005, he spent only one weekend in jail, but the “felony” stamp on his record ended his 25-year information technology career. While he was away, his girlfriend left, taking all of his possessions with her.

After his release, Ross secured an apartment and car, just to lose nearly all of his belongings in a home robbery. Forced to live in his pickup truck, he missed a court date and once again found himself in jail. When he was released, he lived in a cardboard box and, later, thanks to a new job with an ice cream company, the back of an ice cream truck.

When that company asked Ross to return to Tulsa, he jumped at the chance, but after making his way here, drugs found him again and he landed back in jail, the result of unpaid parking tickets. He began his sentence at the Tulsa County Jail and was transferred to the Oklahoma County Jail. Once Ross was released, a judge allowed him to return to Tulsa. This time, though, he knew he had just one more chance to turn his life around. So he met with his probation officer, who recommended that he visit The Salvation Army Center of Hope and “take advantage of everything they had to offer,” Ross says.

The Center of Hope assigned Ross a case manager, who helped him set personal recovery goals. He joined Narcotics Anonymous to overcome his drug addiction, received counseling from Family and Children’s Services to address his depression and — after successfully completing the necessary levels of life skills courses — became part of The Salvation Army’s Project ABLE, providing him with temporary housing and an opportunity to attend Tulsa Community College.

Once lacking a support system, Ross now lives among a community of other men who have faced similar challenges. 

Deeply moved by the help he received from The Salvation Army and other agencies, Ross wanted to find a way to give back. So, as part of a class project at Tulsa Community College, where he is pursuing an associate’s degree, he decided to produce and direct a documentary about the experiences of homeless people in Tulsa, specifically fellow Project ABLE participants. The resulting film, “How Sally Changed My Life,” premiered at Circle Cinema in October 2009.

Ross says he wanted to give people like him an opportunity to share their stories and alleviate misconceptions associated with homelessness.

“(I wanted) to bring awareness to the situation and that there are other alternatives besides putting somebody into an apartment and saying they’re not homeless anymore,” he says. “There are issues why people become homeless, and if you don’t resolve those issues … in the first place, they’re destined to become chronically homeless.”

The new face of homelessness

According to local homeless services providers, the causes of homelessness are changing.

Once homeless, John Ross is now a participant in The Salvation 
Army’s Project ABLE program, lives at the organization’s Center of Hope 
and attends Tulsa Community College. He has captured the experiences of 
fellow Project ABLE participants in the documentary "How Sally 
Changed My Life."Sandra Lewis, executive director of the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless, a downtown shelter that provides a safe environment and opportunities for self-sufficiency for Tulsa’s homeless population, says she is seeing a new face of homelessness. Many of these Day Center clients are reeling from the national economic crisis and seeking help for the first time. Some have been laid off and, as a result, are struggling to pay their bills. Others had an extended illness or sick child and could not recover from the lost income.

She has helped couples, families and people with college degrees and varied job experiences.

“It’s been really amazing,” she says.

Officials at The Salvation Army are seeing similar trends. The numbers first began to jump in 2009, says Arletta Robinson, executive director of the Center of Hope, The Salvation Army’s downtown facility that houses the organization’s social service programs. Already in 2010, the number of total meals served at the Center of Hope has increased by 59 percent over 2006 and the number of total nights lodging has increased by 48 percent.

“Those are huge, huge increases,” Robinson says.

Although a variety of factors have affected these numbers, Robinson says the economy has played a significant role. Like Lewis, Robinson has seen many first-time service users.

“We’re hearing from our guests, ‘I’ve given for years. I never thought I’d need services,’” Robinson says.

In addition to the growth of families seeking services, Robinson says the homeless population is also getting younger.

Twenty-four years ago, when she began working in social services, the average age of homeless individuals in Tulsa was 55. Now, the range is 25-45, and more people in their 20s are seeking help.

“Young people just do not have a support system for a wide variety of reasons — our society, our economy, life,” she says.

The reality of these trends hit hard on Thanksgiving 2009 for Maj. Roy Williams, Salvation Army Tulsa area commander, as he watched a TV reporter interview a family at the Center of Hope. The reporter spoke with a father, mother and their two young children, who were eating their holiday meal there.

They told the reporter that the husband had recently lost his job. The family quickly saw their savings disappear and, soon, their three-bedroom home. Before they knew it, they found themselves living at the Center of Hope and working to regain their previous lifestyle.

“That’s what’s happening to people,” Williams says. “They have had the American dream, and then they lost their job.”

The growth in Tulsa’s homeless population is not limited to the last few years. The number of people spending nights in area homeless shelters has been growing exponentially for decades, says Jim Lyall, associate director of the Community Service Council of Greater Tulsa (CSC).

The CSC has been counting the local homeless population daily since the 1980s. Then, on average 250 people spent their nights in shelters. Now, 550 do. These nightly counts, which include the Center of Hope, the Day Center, John 3:16 Mission, Youth Services and others, reveal that over a year, approximately 4,000 people use the local shelter system.

The majority — about 2,800 — are what Lyall calls “situationally homeless,” one- or two-time homeless system users.

They have faced a hardship and, with assistance from social services, can regain housing, employment and security. But there is another homeless population in Tulsa that poses a different set of challenges.

The chronically homeless

The most commonly used term is “chronically homeless,” according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an “unaccompanied disabled individual who has been continuously homeless for over one year or has had four episodes of homelessness in the last three years.”

Michael Brose, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Tulsa.Local agency leaders, however, tend to bristle when the word “chronic” is mentioned. As Lyall notes, the term “chronic” implies that a person cannot move past homelessness. Rather, he refers to these individuals as “hard to house” or “challenging to house.”

Tulsa has 206 chronically homeless individuals, according to recent counts, and those at agencies that serve them can list most of them by name.

When walking into the Day Center, it’s quickly evident which clients are situationally homeless and which have reached a chronic level, says Michael Brose, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Tulsa (MHAT).  

“I always say, if it walks like a duck and it quacks (like a duck),” he says. “You can just see people who’ve become chronically homeless. They’ve aged. We see them every day.”

Although these 206 individuals represent just 17 percent of the 30 percent of those who are homeless more than once or twice, they consume 80 percent of resources, including local donations and federal HUD funds, as well as the time and finances of agencies, Brose says.

The factors that set the chronically homeless apart are more complicated than those facing the situationally homeless.
They tend to remain in the homeless services system longer and face conditions ranging from behavioral to economic to health challenges. All interfere with their ability to secure consistent housing, Lyall says.

Often, the chronically homeless individual has endured decades of hardships, including child abuse, displacement from a home, trauma during a military experience, low self-esteem incurred as a result of poor school performance, mental illness “or other conditions that have prevented them from moving forward,” Lyall says.

Some have spent their lives in generational poverty, Williams says, a concept that is difficult for those who have not had those experiences to comprehend.

“I’ve had people celebrating they’ve got their child on SSI (Supplemental Security Income),” he says. “That’s a perfect (example of) generational poverty. They make their child think that’s the way it should be.”

For these clients, learning to manage finances and pay bills in a timely manner is a milestone. Many also lack the traditional safety nets — credit, savings, help from family members or friends — that can protect them in the case of a financial setback, such as job loss, an extended illness or a major car repair.

“The small things for us that are just a bump in the road … for them, it means they’re getting behind on their light payment, they’re getting behind on their rent payment and eventually it leads to (their termination) and they’re at our front door,” Williams says.

Complex causes

Two major contributors to chronic homelessness are mental illness and substance abuse. According to some studies, as many as one-third of homeless individuals are mentally ill and as many as 70 percent of cases also face drug or alcohol addiction, says Greer Fites, director of homeless services for Family & Children’s Services (FCS).

Often, the stigma of mental illness keeps individuals from seeking treatment, and they begin to rely on street drugs rather than prescriptions. 

“Sometimes the illness itself tells you you’re not sick,” Fites says. “It gets in the way as well.”

Each day, FCS Homeless Outreach Team members visit the Day Center to offer screenings. Team members have seen a variety of severe illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression and schizoaffective disorder, Fites says.

If they detect that a client suffers from a severe mental illness, the individual goes to the FCS office for a full intake and diagnosis. At that point, case managers can help the client develop a treatment plan; set up appointments with a therapist for therapy and a psychiatrist to prescribe needed medications; or connect the client with substance abuse services. The case manager has ongoing contact with the client to help with housing, clothing and other basic needs.

For those who need more intensive care, FCS created CO-PACT (the Program of Assertive Community Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders) to treat homeless adults with mental health and substance abuse disorders. In place since 2005, the CO-PACT model goes to where homeless individuals gather — from bridges to streets to homeless encampments, Fites says. Once a case manager has developed a relationship with an individual, he or she can provide treatment, rehabilitation and support services, helping to prevent incarceration or hospitalization and remove barriers to affordable housing.

“Us (CO-PACT) taking the initiative really helps in encouraging people to take advantage of services,” Fites says.

The costs of chronic homelessness range from hospital bills to emergency fees to incarceration and substance abuse treatment. Homelessness can also affect a community’s sense of itself when a large, sustained population of homeless individuals is visible, including the mentally ill, veterans and some ethnic minority populations, Lyall says, prompting many in the community to ask, “Why them?”

The first step, Brose says, is identifying housing. It is a myth that the chronically homeless choose to live that way, he says. Often, when he asks a chronically homeless individual what he or she needs to take the next step, the answer is, “I need a place to live.”

“We need to get them in shelter first so they can think about other things,” Brose says.

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February 2019

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Friday, February 22, 2019 8:00 am – 4:30 pm Oklahoma State University - Tulsa Conference Meeting Room: North Hall, Room 150 The 2019 Chautauqua will focus on the relationship between family...

Cost: $20-$75

Where:
OSU-Tulsa
700 N. Greenwood Ave.
Tulsa, OK  74106
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Sponsor: OSU Center for Family Resilience and the OSU Center for Wellness and Recovery
Contact Name: Dr. Amanda Harrist
Website »

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The Museum’s Dickinson Research Center is home to more than 700,000 photographs, 44,000 books, and perhaps unexpectedly, at least 1,000 horses. Meet some of the herd in Horseplay, the new...

Cost: $12.50 adult entry

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
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Few animals conjure the power and symbolic presence of the North American bison. Whether painted on a tipi or an artist’s canvas, minted on a nickel, or seen grazing in Yellowstone National Park,...

Cost: $12.50 adult entry

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »

More information

As Lakota artist Oscar Howe wrote in 1958, “There is much more to Indian art than pretty, stylized pictures.” This exhibition highlights this depth and the 20th century American masters who...

Cost: $12.50 adult entry

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles — both “over there” and on the home front — in helping the Allies win World War I. The American Expeditionary Force (AEF)...

Cost: $12.50 adult entry

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »

More information

Do you and your pup have "cabin fever"? Come out to the Botanic Garden during our "Dog Days of Winter" - Fridays and Saturdays during January and February only when four-legged...

Cost: Free for Garden members & their dogs. Admission + $4 per dog for non-members.

Where:
Tulsa Botanic Garden
3900 Tulsa Botanic Drive
Tulsa, OK  74127
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Sponsor: Tulsa Botanic Garden
Telephone: 918-289-0330
Contact Name: Lori Hutson

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34th Chelsea International Fine Art Competition—Opens on February 5th, 2019   Agora Gallery is pleased to invite artists from across the globe to enter the 34th Annual Chelsea...

Cost: $45 entry fee for up to 5 images ($5 for each additional image)

Where:
Agora Gallery
530 W 25th St.
New York, NY  10001
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Sponsor: Agora Gallery
Telephone: +1 212-226-4151
Contact Name: Carolina Carilo
Website »

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Winter's Grace Publishing, of northeast Oklahoma, is holding its inaugural Dead of Winter Flash Fiction Contest. It opened January 1 and it closes February 28. It's open to all creative writers...

Cost: $15 per story

Where:
, OK


Sponsor: Winter's Grace Publishing
Telephone: 918-852-6311
Contact Name: C.D. Smart
Website »

More information

Sweets & Cream will be reopening Friday, February 22 at 3PM! Come on by for a $1.99 ice cream cookie sandwich and give a small donation to the Tips for Charity effort to help support our local...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Sweets & Cream
1114 S Yale Avenue
Tulsa, OK  74112
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Sponsor: Sweets & Cream
Telephone: 918-633-3182
Contact Name: Erik Collins
Website »

More information

5:00-6:00 Nature & Madness is the contemplative indie-folk project of Ryan Pickop. Ryan's work is rooted in Americana, rooted in the Earth. Challenging without being confrontational, we are offered...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heirloom Rustic Ales
Tulsa, OK


Sponsor: Heirloom Rustic Ales

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Solo performance. Originally from the OKC area, Adrienne Gilley is a vocalist, guitar player, songwriter. Drawing from co-writers and influential mentors and supporters in the Tulsa music scene,...

Cost: Tipping encouraged

Where:
The Colony
2809 S. Harvard
Tulsa, OK  74114
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Website »

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Sample various whiskey, have dinner and hear some fabulous music! 

Cost: 150.00

Where:
Studio 308
308 S. Lansing Ave.
Tulsa, OK  74120
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Sponsor: Lindsey House
Telephone: 918-933-5222
Contact Name: Diana Denny
Website »

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JAKE OWEN Multiple chart-topping singer/songwriter Jake Owen’s new single “Down To The Honkytonk” is rapidly climbing the Billboard Country Airplay charts. With seven #1 songs to...

Cost: $50, $75, $100

Where:
Osage Casino
Tulsa, OK

More information

Sunday in the Park with George follows painter Georges Seurat in the months leading up to the completion of his most famous painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte." Consumed...

Cost: $25.00 for adults, $22.50 for students & seniors with ID

Where:
Tulsa Performing Arts Center
110 E. 2nd St.
Tulsa, OK  74103
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Sponsor: American Theatre Company
Telephone: (918) 747-9494
Contact Name: Meghan Hurley
Website »

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Join us for the 59th Annual Book Fair! Saturday, February 23, 2019 8:00 am–3:00 pm Holland Hall Primary School Gym Open to the public. Tickets $1, 18 and under free. No RSVP required,...

Cost: $1

Where:
Holland Hall Primary School
5666 E. 81 St.
Tulsa, OK  74137
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Sponsor: Holland Hall
Telephone: 918-481-1111
Contact Name: Heather Brasel
Website »

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The Orbit Initiative, produced by The Tulsa Performing Arts Center and Trust, resumes its FREE community satellite adventures at seven local community centers this Saturday, January 12th, and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Various
Various
Tulsa, OK  Various
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Sponsor: The Tulsa Performing Arts Center and Trust
Telephone: 918-596-7119
Contact Name: Jeremy Stevens
Website »

More information

As Lakota artist Oscar Howe wrote in 1958, “There is much more to Indian art than pretty, stylized pictures.” This exhibition highlights this depth and the 20th century American masters who...

Cost: $12.50 adult entry

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »

More information

Do you and your pup have "cabin fever"? Come out to the Botanic Garden during our "Dog Days of Winter" - Fridays and Saturdays during January and February only when four-legged...

Cost: Free for Garden members & their dogs. Admission + $4 per dog for non-members.

Where:
Tulsa Botanic Garden
3900 Tulsa Botanic Drive
Tulsa, OK  74127
View map »


Sponsor: Tulsa Botanic Garden
Telephone: 918-289-0330
Contact Name: Lori Hutson

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles — both “over there” and on the home front — in helping the Allies win World War I. The American Expeditionary Force (AEF)...

Cost: $12.50 adult entry

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »

More information

Few animals conjure the power and symbolic presence of the North American bison. Whether painted on a tipi or an artist’s canvas, minted on a nickel, or seen grazing in Yellowstone National Park,...

Cost: $12.50 adult entry

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »

More information

The Museum’s Dickinson Research Center is home to more than 700,000 photographs, 44,000 books, and perhaps unexpectedly, at least 1,000 horses. Meet some of the herd in Horseplay, the new...

Cost: $12.50 adult entry

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »

More information

Pain Management Class Non-medical Treatments for Pain Non-medical treatments may be used to treat chronic pain, along with pain medicines. They might also be used alone for mild pain or...

Cost: Free and Open to the Public

Where:
Glenpool Library
730 E. 141st Street
Glenpool, OK  74033
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Sponsor: Success Skills
Telephone: 405-401-3519
Contact Name: Ron Watkins

More information

34th Chelsea International Fine Art Competition—Opens on February 5th, 2019   Agora Gallery is pleased to invite artists from across the globe to enter the 34th Annual Chelsea...

Cost: $45 entry fee for up to 5 images ($5 for each additional image)

Where:
Agora Gallery
530 W 25th St.
New York, NY  10001
View map »


Sponsor: Agora Gallery
Telephone: +1 212-226-4151
Contact Name: Carolina Carilo
Website »

More information

Winter's Grace Publishing, of northeast Oklahoma, is holding its inaugural Dead of Winter Flash Fiction Contest. It opened January 1 and it closes February 28. It's open to all creative writers...

Cost: $15 per story

Where:
, OK


Sponsor: Winter's Grace Publishing
Telephone: 918-852-6311
Contact Name: C.D. Smart
Website »

More information

Youth members of the six area Boys & Girls Clubs compete for college scholarships in the Annual Youth of the Year competition. The winners are announced at this banquet. Volunteers making a...

Cost: $75

Where:
ORU Global Learning Center
7777 S Lewis Ave
Tulsa, OK  74171
View map »


Sponsor: The Salvation Army
Telephone: 918-587-7801
Contact Name: Samantha Knappen
Website »

More information

Cocktails, dinner and program with live and silent auctions followed by a Casino and dancing.

Cost: $200 per person, sponsorships available

Where:
The Mayo Hotel
115 W. 5th Street
Tulsa
Tulsa, OK  74103
View map »


Sponsor: Tulsa CASA, Inc.
Telephone: 918-584-2272
Contact Name: Paula McKay
Website »

More information

Dancing, cocktails, Cajun and jazz...all of the goodies that Mardi Gras has!  Come join New Hope Oklahoma in a night of Mardi Gras fun!  New Hope Oklahoma strives to end generational...

Cost: TBD

Where:
The Bond
608 E 3rd St
Tulsa, OK  74120
View map »

More information

Dancing, cocktails, Cajun and jazz...all of the goodies that Mardi Gras has!  Come join New Hope Oklahoma in a night of Mardi Gras fun! New Hope Oklahoma strives to end generational incarceration,...

Cost: TBD

Where:
The Bond Event Center
608 E 3rd St
Tulsa, OK  74120
View map »

More information

Cocktails, dinner and program;  silent and live auctions followed by a Casino and dancing.

Cost: $200 per person, sponsorships available

Where:
The Mayo Hotel
115 W. 5th Street
Tulsa, OK  74103
View map »


Sponsor: Tulsa CASA, Inc.
Telephone: 918-584-2272
Contact Name: Paula McKay
Website »

More information

Support youth leaders emerging from Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Tulsa. Each candidate is competing for higher education scholarships. Our goal is for youth leader to be a winner and advance with...

Cost: $50 Individual Tickets and Sponsor Levels

Where:
Global Learning Center at ORU
7777 S Lewis Avenue
Tulsa, OK  74171
View map »


Sponsor: The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Tulsa
Telephone: 918-587-7801
Contact Name: Samantha Knappen
Website »

More information

America’s LARGEST interactive comedy murder mystery dinner show is now playing at the Hilton Garden Inn Tulsa Broken Arrow! At The Dinner Detective, you’ll tackle a challenging crime while you...

Cost: 59.95

Where:
Hilton Garden Inn Tulsa- Broken Arrow
420 W Albany St.
Broken Arrow, OK  74012
View map »


Telephone: 866-496-0535
Contact Name: The Dinner Detective
Website »

More information

6-10:30 p.m. Southern Hills Country Club, 2636 E. 61st Street. The 2019 Lunar New Year Gala at Southern Hills Country Club will be an elegant evening of candlelight, fine dining, children’s party...

Cost: $150, individual tickets; $1,000-$25,000, sponsorships.

Where:
Southern Hills Country Club
2636 E. 61st Street
Tulsa, OK  74136
View map »


Sponsor: Dillon International
Telephone: 918-748-5613
Contact Name: Marcia Graham
Website »

More information

COOKING UP COMPASSION FACT SHEET ABOUT THE EVENT:  Long time donors Margo and Kent Dunbar are Honorary Chairs for the event. Now in its fourteenth year, Cooking Up Compassion raises funds for the...

Cost: $250

Where:
Tulsa Ballroom at the Cox Business Center
3rd & Houston
Tulsa
Tulsa, OK  74135
View map »


Sponsor: Catholic Charities
Telephone: 918-508-7115
Contact Name: Jennifer Allen
Website »

More information

Winterset is an annual formal event of the Osteopathic Founders Foundation which brings together the osteopathic profession and their community partners to benefit projects which improve the health...

Cost: $300

Where:
Hyatt Regency Tulsa
100 E 2nd St
Tulsa, OK  74103
View map »


Sponsor: Osteopathic Founders Foundation
Telephone: 918-551-7300
Contact Name: Michele Caine
Website »

More information

Sunday in the Park with George follows painter Georges Seurat in the months leading up to the completion of his most famous painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte." Consumed...

Cost: $25.00 for adults, $22.50 for students & seniors with ID

Where:
Tulsa Performing Arts Center
110 E. 2nd St.
Tulsa, OK  74103
View map »


Sponsor: American Theatre Company
Telephone: (918) 747-9494
Contact Name: Meghan Hurley
Website »

More information

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TULtalk


Art film meets dance at Oklahoma Dance Film Festival

This year's program features more than 20 films from around the world, presented on Sunday at the Central Library.

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2.4: #KnopeLife — Anna America

Anna America took the helm at Tulsa’s Parks and Recreation department in the fall of 2018, but she is certainly no stranger to life in the public eye.

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7 strategies to help you make the A-LIST

The competition is tough for small businesses on our annual readers' choice survey, but a few smart strategies can help you get ahead.

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“Sunday in the Park” is no walk in the park

American Theatre Company prepares for the Oklahoma premiere of the very technically challenging “Sunday in the Park with George,” Feb. 15-24

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2.3: Get that “Woo!” — Tom Basler

A conversation with dueling piano phenom Tom Basler about his many reinventions, both personal and professional.

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