One of the things I love most about Oklahoma City is the variety of museum and cultural experiences that aren’t just kid-friendly but that truly seek to engage kids in understanding, appreciating and feeling part of the space and the story conveyed. For my kids, the word “museum” means a place to ask questions, explore their own thoughts and emotions and find wonder and joy. Two of our recent adventures took us to spaces that accomplished all that and more!
“Wait … you’re saying we’re going to an art museum where we can actually touch the art?”
My 7-year-old’s mind was blown when I described what a trip to OKC’s Factory Obscura would entail: an immersive, sensory art experience where, yes, you can touch everything and the art is not just on the walls but under your feet, above your head, truly all around you. The moment you walk up to the building, you’re drawn in by huge colorful murals and a giant, interactive boom box. The kids had to test all the buttons before we could head inside.
The collaborative creations in Factory Obscura’s Mix-Tape exhibit take you through multiple rooms on an adventure fueled by imagination, all an ode to the emotions inspired by music. Once we heard an overview of safety protocols and a reminder to touch everything gently, we purchased some 3D glasses to enhance the experience — our chosen glasses made rainbows appear in the lights throughout.
After entering the space through a giant pink ear, guests can walk, crawl, climb, slide and dance their way through the various spaces full of hand-crafted art. Our favorite parts of the experience were:
- A tiny room we had to crawl into with the walls covered in plastic pink flamingos and changing lights set to music
- A twisting slide accessed by walking up stairs, crawling through a small space, over a clear circular platform through which you could see multicolored lights. (I was nervous I’d get stuck — good news: I made it through!)
- A bedroom scene that felt straight out of my childhood with objects slightly off scale where buttons could be pushed to play various songs. The dancing parents that ensued were a delight to some children, an embarrassment to others.
- An arch crafted entirely of stuffed animals
- A sculpture wall of various objects all painted the same color. We stood in front of it for quite a while trying to identify the objects used
We walked through the entire exhibit twice and saw and experienced so many things on our second pass through that we’d missed the first time. We were all in awe the entire time. While the kids absolutely loved it, I think the parents had the most fun. The space definitely inspires a childlike wonder, curiosity and joy for all who experience it. Our visit has been a family topic of conversation consistently since.
If you’re not ready to visit yet or want to extend your visit with fun projects to take home, pick up an art-at-home kit inspired by the Mix-Tape experience. All kits include one free kids’ ticket.
Plan your visit + COVID protocols: Mix-Tape is only available through timed ticketing that must be reserved in advance so the number of guests at one time can be limited and social distancing can be observed. Masks are required for all guests over age 2 throughout the duration of the visit, including while taking photos. Tickets are $17 for adults, $12 for kids ages 3-12 and free for kids under 3. Plan at least an hour for your experience, plus time to check out the gift store.
We were fortunate to visit Oklahoma Contemporary soon after the new space opened in summer 2020, but the unveiling of the exhibit Ed Ruscha: Okla meant we were excited to return to experience the space in a new way. The mind-blowing experience my kids couldn’t wait to see here is the Chocolate Room — an entire space covered in sheets of screen-printed chocolate. Really.
Multimedia works by Ruscha examine his connection to his childhood in Oklahoma City, and that connection was inspiring and engaging for my kids to experience. Ruscha lived in Oklahoma City from age 5 to 18, and particularly in the Learning Gallery we enjoyed seeing photos connected with a map of places that inspired and shaped him as an artist, like the Downtown Library. Ed Rusha: Okla is on exhibit through July 5.
Our favorite parts of our experience were:
- The family-friendly, interactive Learning Gallery was a highlight of our visit. The space encourages hands-on making by all ages in relation to Ruscha’s exhibit and works. First, we created text art (and my oldest loved seeing the examples of figurative language on the wall that she’s been learning about at school) with lots of tools to enjoy in our making process. We loved seeing the creations of people who’d visited before us and got to leave our artwork to be included in the gallery. Next, we created accordion art books while we watched a virtual tour on Route 66 and examined a huge map on the wall depicting the journey from Oklahoma to California, discussing places we’d visited along the wall.
- Chocolate Room features 360 sheets of screen-printed chocolate onto paper, lining the walls of the final piece of art, which guests get to actually step inside. Gallery guides told us each sheet required one to two Hershey’s bars to make. You can smell the chocolate as soon as you step onto the second floor of the museum, and the sweet scent gets stronger the closer you get to the gallery’s finale. Interestingly, the exhibit changes over time because as chocolate is exposed to air, the coloring changes from brown to white, so even if you visit multiple times, it will never look the same. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
- Julian Opie’s Faime Walking is a double-sided electronic sculpture featuring a moving image of a person walking, located outside the museum’s main entrance. Both on our way in and out, my kids loved “racing” the larger-than-life image, and, I’ll admit, so did I! This piece is on view through May 24.
If you’re not ready to visit, or to watch before you go, enjoy videos about the exhibition at oklahomacontemporary.org.
Plan your visit + COVID protocols: Tickets to Oklahoma Contemporary are free but must be reserved in advance for a timed ticketing experience to limit the number of guests in the space and allow for social distancing. Masks must be worn throughout the building. Plan about an hour to enjoy both floors of the museum, plus extra time to check out the outdoor spaces, museum store and cafe.