Sovereign Futures convenes arts, academics, and curators - The University of Tulsa
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Sovereign Futures convenes arts, academics, and curators

During an arts symposium in 2021 to commemorate the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, local officials began thinking about ways to build on the success of the multi-day event. In a way, this spring’s Sovereign Futures gathering will be a continuation of that effort.

In another sense, however, Sovereign Futures will mark the beginning of a new project that The University of Tulsa hopes to turn into an arts triennial.

“We’re building on what we’ve done before, but it’s also sort of Year Zero,” said Jeff Van Hanken, department chair and Wellspring associate professor of film studies. “If this all comes together, it could be the beginning of something very special for the university and the city of Tulsa.”

During a four-day gathering that starts April 4, artist-led projects in multiple locations will explore the theme of sovereignty through the lens of food, land, speculative futures, and histories of the place that is now called Oklahoma.

Allison Glenn

Allison Glenn, a visiting curator in charge of organizing Sovereign Futures, conceived of it as “an opportunity to understand what might be possible” if Tulsa makes it a triennial.

In 2021, Glenn was working as associate curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. Arkansas. She drove to Tulsa to see the centennial commemoration, which she describes as a “momentous occasion.”

The events included displays, performances, historical tours, and documentaries presented throughout the Greenwood neighborhood. The memory of that experience made Glenn want “to have really deep and engaged conversations” during this year’s Sovereign Futures event.

Collaborating with Van Hanken and other curatorial advisers, Glenn has planned “a constellation of artists’ projects” along with performances, meals, and panel discussions.

“It’s a proof of concept” for a triennial, she said. “The approach of working on this project has been incredibly rewarding and informative. I’ve learned a lot about pre-statehood Oklahoma and all of the dreams and desires of the region and the key players.”

If it does develop into a triennial, the next Sovereign Futures would come in 2027, not long after the planned grand opening of the rebuilt Gilcrease Museum. A new world-class facility along with a top-notch triennial would draw tremendous attention to Tulsa and the university, Van Hanken said.

“There are a lot of eyes on this project from the art world,” he said. “And, absolutely, this will open doors for our students who are looking to become practicing artists themselves, or perhaps they’re interested in arts management or in museum studies. There’s even a kind of a space within this for entrepreneurial studies and the ways that art can trigger economic development, public safety improvements, and health improvements. There’s quite a wide range of ways that a university can participate in this project.”

Three art history students will participate in the 2024 symposium along with two film studies majors, Van Hanken said. Both of those students will also be involved in documenting the event while others will work behind the scenes. “They are the staff so to speak,” Van Hanken said. “And it’s a pretty high-profile, remarkable entry into the art world for them.”

Queen Rose Art House

Convening sites will include Circle Cinema, Tulsa’s oldest and only nonprofit movie theater; Fulton Street Books, an independent bookstore on Black Wall Street; the Osage Nation’s Harvest Land Farm; the historically Black pioneer town of Boley, about 65 miles southwest of Tulsa; the Guthrie Green, downtown Tulsa’s urban park and performance space; and interdisciplinary artist Kalup Linzy’s Queen Rose Art House, a social and critical art space that hosts performances, exhibitions, and short-term artist residencies.

Curatorial advisers to the project include Kalyn Fay Barnoski (Cherokee Nation enrollee, Muscogee (Creek) descent), assistant curator of Native American art at Philbrook Museum of Art; visual artist Yatika Starr Fields (Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek) and Osage); Caleb Gayle, journalism professor at Northeastern University and New York Times Magazine contributing writer; and interdisciplinary artist Rick Lowe, co-curator of Greenwood Arts Project in 2021.

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