OK #1 Curating Community

by Elizabeth J. Wenger

Occupying an empty storefront off Historic Route 66 between Yale and Sheridan is Tulsa’s own pirate radio station and artist-run space, OK #1. The unassuming location was transformed into a venue for lectures, workshops, and all things art by Tulsa Artist Fellow and founder and proprietor Lucas Wrench.

A Tulsa transplant, Wrench first came to the city from LA about three years ago through a fellowship at the Philbrook Museum of Art. Since then, he has worked with Gilcrease and spent time in the various art institutions of Tulsa. Now Wrench is going in a different direction with his curatorial work, breaking away from the blueprint of the more well-known and traditional homes of art to form an environment that will foster creativity and showcase the work, ideas, and talents of creatives.

The model for OK #1 is Machine Project, an artist-run space in LA that Wrench worked at prior to his move. Wrench wanted to create something similar on his own and found that Tulsa was ripe for this kind of project.

“It didn’t seem very possible to start something like that in Los Angeles,” Wrench said, “Tulsa is a very livable and cheap city and there are lots of storefronts available and there didn’t seem to be that kind of artist-run activity.”

Working at Tulsa’s museums and in the Tulsa Artist Fellowship (TAF), Wrench noticed the Tulsa art scene was initiated and run in a top-down manner. The dream, according to Wrench, was to create an alternative community space for creatives to feel they could make the art they wanted outside the structures already in place in Tulsa. Wrench opines that while the city has a lot of creative potential, there needs to be more room for unregulated, uncensored work.

“The public face of Tulsa is extremely corporate and I find it can be a very demoralizing picture of niceness with very little appetite for criticism or critique or friction,” Wrench said. “I would hope that OK #1 could be a hub for people who don’t agree with that… for whom that’s not a nurturing environment and who are looking for something else, like a more grassroots creative community where there is more freedom and experimentation and critique and discourse and that maybe we can eventually build some power as a group of people.”

Since it’s opening just over a year ago, OK #1 has hosted lectures and workshops, leaving the storefront and going into the community occasionally for more ambitious art projects. When the pandemic blocked possibilities of community events, OK #1 adapted. Wrench looks at COVID and its fallout as an opportunity to try new things.

“I had just renewed the lease on this space when the COVID lockdown happened” Wrench stated. “During COVID I haven’t wanted to do any public events in the space. So we are doing twitch streams and online stuff which has been nice, because it’s a chance to work with some people out of the state or country who wouldn’t normally do a virtual event in other circumstances.”

Along with twitch streams, Wrench made the storefront available for people who needed a space to work in. OK #1 offered the storefront temporarily as warehouse space for the Socialist Rifle Association, which organized a mutual aid distribution project and held street medic training.

A month ago, Wrench converted the back room into a radio station where each DJ goes in by themselves to host a show. The radio station is an eclectic mix of anything-goes music and talk shows.

“It’s been a nice way for people to connect and do something socially distant,” Wrench said.

He invites anyone with an idea for a radio show to email their pitch to info@okno.one. The shows can be found locally by tuning into 91.1 or online from anywhere via okno.one.

Though they recently received a grant from the Oklahoma Visual Arts Commission (OVAC), OK #1 continues to seek funding. Wrench plans to create a Patreon to keep the project going. Until it’s release, interested parties can donate via OK #1’s paypal to support the growth of Tulsa’s community arts scene.

At its core, OK #1 is interested in cultivating a community for arts from the bottom-up. With a background in curatorial work, Wrench emphasizes the idea of making space and forming connections. Of the pirate radio station and the storefront itself Wrench says, “I think it’s just a space that is independent. A place to show other possibilities and more exciting things that could be happening in Tulsa.”