AHHA moment

The recently opened Hardesty Arts Center is the crown jewel of Tulsa’s Brady Arts District renaissance.



Part of the Hardesty Arts Center exterior is made from Cor-Ten steel, a steel alloy that creates a rusted, weathered look.

(page 1 of 2)

There was a time when the area just north of the railroad near downtown Tulsa was called the Brady District.

Today, the name Brady is rarely uttered without the word “Arts” after it.

The space, stretching from East Archer Street on the south to Interstate 244 on the north, and from South Boulder Avenue to ONEOK Field, is known for its artistic flair, including the Tulsa Artists’ Coalition Gallery; Brady Artists Studio; Living Arts of Tulsa; Tulsa Glassblowing Studio; and Mathews Warehouse, which houses the Henry Zarrow Center for Art and Education.

The newest building is one that hopes to be a bridge for the entire arts community. Standing on the northeast corner of Archer and South Boston Avenue, the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa’s Hardesty Arts Center — or AHHA for short — had its grand opening Dec. 16.

It now houses the council’s offices and active arts areas such as studios and classrooms.  

The entire structure was designed with arts and culture in mind, says Ken Busby, AHCT executive director and CEO. His instructions to the architects were “iconic on a budget.”

The west side of the building is made from Cor-Ten steel, a steel alloy that causes a layer of rust to form in a few months, creating a weathered look and eliminating the need for paint. Thus, the new building already reveals shades of brown and orange.

A wall of windows along Archer is actually folding doors that open to a creative studio.

“People will be able to stroll along the sidewalk and have an arts experience,” Busby says.

The front facade is a metal mesh made of die-cut steel panels — not only to provide a modern look, but also to create some relief from direct sun for artists and to cast artistic, circular shadows on the floor.

Inside, the gallery space leads to more windows and a courtyard, with sculptures and a stage for performances. Anchor points have been built into the ceiling to accommodate a hanging sculpture up to 2,000 pounds.

The four floors house a variety of studios and classrooms, including a wood shop; children’s lab; film and lecture hall; research library; 2-, 3- and 4-D classrooms; and a public photography studio.

An artist’s deck wraps around the building to provide outdoor inspiration, and a party deck on the third floor is available for weddings and party rentals.

On the top floor, artists in residence have studios where they can work, teach and learn the business of art. Their studios look out over a roof of red, yellow and green sedum — a beautiful, floral scene and a way to incorporate nature into the building, Busby says.

The concrete and steel building is meant to get messy, and Busby envisions that several hundred schoolchildren and adults will be able to work and play in the 42,000-square-foot building every day.

Not only is the Brady Arts District location beneficial for arts synergy, it also allows the Hardesty Arts Center to be close to the areas that need art most, Busby says.

“It’s an easy distance for the people who have the least access to the arts,” Busby says. “Our idea is to be transformative because the arts do change people’s lives.”

Ken Busby, Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa executive director, with Kathy McRuiz, Hardesty Arts Center director, surrounded by several pieces of art from the “Concept/OK: Art in Oklahoma” exhibit that runs through Feb. 16 at the center.

The AHCT still owns its former home, the 12,000-square-foot Harwelden Mansion. It will continue to house partner agencies, including the Tulsa Children’s Chorus, Chamber Music Tulsa, LOOK Musical Theatre and the Hispanic American Foundation.

The Mayfest office has taken over the former AHCT administrative space. The American Institute of Architects continues to office from the Harwelden carriage house, and the mansion continues to be available for event rentals.

Busby began the project of fundraising for the Hardesty Arts Center four years ago. He and the campaign cabinet already have raised $15 million, enough to cover the $12.6 million construction project. His goal is to raise about $3 million more to pay for additional programming, expanded staff for the gallery and education programs, and an endowment.

Central to the fundraising campaign was Chairwoman Billie Barnett. The lead gifts are from The Hardesty Family Foundation, E. Ann Graves, The J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation, Jean Ann and Tom Fausser, George Kaiser Family Foundation, Raymond & Bessie Kravis Foundation, The Mary K. Chapman Foundation, the City of Tulsa, the Hille Foundation and the Anne & Henry Zarrow Foundation.

Such a big undertaking didn’t occur overnight, says Bill Andoe, a board member and past AHCT chairman.

An arts center has been on the agenda since the council’s infancy in the 1960s, but Busby was the force that made it happen.

“A lot of people had their hand in this,” Andoe says. “It took a lot of people to make a dream a reality. But it couldn’t have happened without the vision of Ken Busby. He has been relentless.”

See Out & About for photos of the Hardesty Arts Center’s Dec. 14-16 opening weekend. 

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