Oklahoma City family fun makes art tangible and relevant, even when we don't know we need it.
"Mom, I'm too old to see art today," Sam fussed.
Games on the iPad and scooter races with friends seemed like a much better way to spend a Saturday to our fourth grader.
"Don't worry," I reassured him. "What we're going to see isn't a toddler art class. It's about rock and roll and then we'll drive into Oklahoma City to see a new outdoor display. Come on, you like music."
Sam shrugged. He was used to attending his brothers' classes, with their non-toxic paint and focus on the basics.
We were off to see Rock & Brews, Oklahoma City's homage restaurant to all-things rock. The famous franchise, known for its connection to KISS member Gene Simmons, has a surprising family focus.
A plastic playground set in the restaurant's patio corner was created with the toddler set in mind, perfect for our now-walking (read running) baby and toddler to play while we waited for our meal just an arm's length away.
The location, at 2737 W. Memorial, used to be Dan O'Brien's Public House.
"We're definitely not just a bar," said Ryan, an employee who took time to speak with me. "That's a misperception; people are surprised you can eat here with kids. I do see a lot of authentic local pride unique to Oklahoma City and we do have six Oklahoma beers at any given time. However, that's not the focal point of what we're doing here. This is a community with so many families. Our menu is broader than your average kids' menu and it's done very purposefully, with fruits and vegetables. We even have a pizza with a gluten-free crust."
Kids eat free with the purchase of an adult meal on special dates like Halloween but also during the week Sunday through Thursday.
"Older kids can really get into the music with their parents here. We have music-themed art throughout that showcases 80s bands," Ryan continued.
That visual element appealed to Sam. Bright colors, an autograph wall, album covers: he took it all in with a familiar soundtrack in the background. Sam has known all the words to AC/DC's "Back in Black" since he was old enough to talk and fostering that appreciation for pop culture as an art is something we teach our sons along with more traditional art forms.
"This is a place to have fun with Dad especially. We have birthday parties that really seem to involve parents and kids of all ages. We've even found ways to accommodate families of kids with special needs so they can enjoy the venue along with everyone else," he summed up.
Everyone left Rock & Brews in a good mood, ready to see art.
That pre-teen reluctance crept back in, though, once we reached Oklahoma Contemporary's Showroom at 11th and Broadway.
Sam hesitated to get out of the car.
"Let's go see Cloud City!" I coaxed. We walked down the street and Sam saw a structure covered him mirrors.
Although it's free to attend, scheduling a tour time is recommended. Another benefit to signing up is the list of rules and suggestions that you'll receive at the email address you use to register. I knew to wear pants, not bring in a cell phone and leave my purse stashed in the car, as the risk of falling objects makes it impossible to take them inside the structure.
What I wish I had known is that Cloud City is for kids 48-inches and up. Isaac, age 4, watched from the sidewalk.
"We don't like breaking hearts," teased volunteer coordinator Logan Hooper. That was okay. Isaac was happy to watch us from below as we disappeared inside.
"Cloud City combines art, engineering, architecture and science," said Logan. "I always ask kids what they think of the experience and what kind of art they enjoy. What I want kids to know that if they do their own kind of art every day, eventually, they may be able to create something like this."
The display premiered on the Metropolitan Museum of Art's rooftop. It's the work of artist Tomas Saraceno and the structure is unbolted to travel around the country after each stop. Its stay in Oklahoma City has been extended until Oct. 30.
Sam loved wandering around its 3D-style mirrors, unsure of where to step next. He talked about it all afternoon. The photos we took capture the work's mesmerizing qualities.
Sometimes, art is just around the corner, waiting for us to come find it. That's how our Saturday ended up.
Just before bedtime, Sam knocked at my bedroom door.
"Mom? Hey, I just wanted to say thank you for making me get out of the car today. I would have missed a lot. I really like art, you know. I just forget sometimes," he said quietly.
I nodded. I'll take that.