Then and Now: 15 Years of Momentum

January 13, 2016

Momentum | Artist Opportunities

This year we celebrate 15 years of Momentum, an exhibition for artists 30 and younger throughout the state. A lot has changed in 15 years, and we’d like to look back at the history of this program and where it has gone.

In 2001 OVAC had a brainstorm meeting with arts community professionals to look at the state of the Oklahoma arts community. From this discussion, OVAC identified the need for support for young artists. Young Oklahoma artists were leaving to cities with art scenes that were perceived to be bigger. Oklahoma was losing its next generation of artists, and something had to be done to preserve the future of our rich culture. Thus, Momentum was born. Creating an exhibition space specifically them, young artists could show alongside their peers, and introduce the public to the thoughtful work being made by young people.

The first Momentum was held in 2002 at Stage Center, where OVAC offices were located at the time. Looking at the list of its committee members and artists, many names pop out of people who are now prominent in the arts community. Fifteen years ago these now art leaders were just getting started.


Kinetic artwork at the first Momentum in 2001

Molly O’Connor, Director of Cultural Development at the Oklahoma Arts Council, was part of that initial brainstorm, and participated as an artist in the first few Momentum exhibitions. “[Momentum] changed my mind about what was possible for the arts in Oklahoma City,” said O’Connor, “and in many ways I think it convinced me it might be better to stay and make things happen than to leave for somewhere else.”


Molly O’Connor at Momentum in 2003

In the past fifteen years, Oklahoma’s art scene has changed. Tulsa’s Brady District is thriving, Oklahoma City has developed several arts districts, Ada has regular festival and art walks, the list goes on and on. Part of that change has been due to Momentum. Retaining our artists to continue the work of their predecessors is important for the thriving culture of Oklahoma. Artists like Dylan Bradway, Scott Henderson, and Nathan Lee were in the first few Momentum exhibitions. Since exhibiting their work, these artists went on to work to serve Oklahoma artists in turn. Whether creating organizations for marginalized artists, venues for young experimental work, or curating museum spaces, Momentum encouraged young artists to develop our community.

Since that first Momentum in 2002, over 1,000 artists have been exhibited through the program, and more than 20,000 have attended the shows. The first few were held in experimental raw spaces and stories of those Momentum exhibitions still circulate as nostalgic memories. Ice storms, birds, and impromptu performances made Momentum stick out in the minds of its attendees.


Momentum OKC 2004

“A “happening” is an improvised, often spontaneous spectacle or performance, especially one involving audience participation and the first Momentum was this exactly!,” said Liz Eickman, the Director of the Kirkpatrick Family Fund, “Each year has its own energy and memorable character.”

Of course, 15 years later Momentum has become more refined with safer spaces, and is often seen by young artists as a major step towards a professional career. The creation of the Spotlight awards for young artists and the introduction of cash awards has made Momentum not just a safe space for young artists, but also a support system for careers.

“There isn’t another venue that gives younger artists the opportunity to participate in and reach such a large audience,” says Debby Williams, a public art consultant and former Director of the Oklahoma Art in Public Places for the State of Oklahoma. “It offers them experience and a unique networking situation where they can meet and talk to other artists and potential collectors.”


Momentum Tulsa 2011 at Living Arts Tulsa

Curating this year’s Momentum is Trent Lawson, an artist in the first Momentum, co-chair of the committee for several years, and OVAC’s Event Coordinator for five years. Lawson now works at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art and continues to work to push the careers of young artists.

“Momentum is always a fun and challenging exhibition,” says Lawson, “I hope to bring a valuable, authentic experience.”

Come celebrate 15 years of supporting the next generation of artists at this year’s Momentum, March 4 & 5. The deadline for artists to submit is January 25, 2016. Artists 30 & younger throughout Oklahoma are eligible to apply. More information at