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Finding OklaCool By Sandy Pantlik I bet James Dean never once felt the need to tell people he was cool. Let’s face it: If you have to say you’re cool, chances are, you aren’t. Just by virtue of our state’s authenticity of people and landscape, we are way cool. And, maybe it’s not so much about telling the rest of the world, but believing it and seeing it ourselves. Need proof? Recently, in just a one week period, Woody Guthrie’s granddaughter, Sarah Lee Guthrie, serenaded the Blue Door, an intimate and one-of-a-kind singer-songwriter haven in the shadow of downtown Oklahoma City, while the Broadway hit “42nd Street” roared from the stage of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. Megastar Elton John packed Oklahoma City’s Ford Center, which is one of the top grossing concert venues in the world, while the town of Guthrie prepared to host its annual art walk, a progressive celebration of the fine arts. And the list goes on. From our homegrown Red Dirt music to our imported sparkling Chihuly tower, we have very good cultural bones. With little more than a year out from celebrating our state’s centennial milestone, it’s time for Oklahomans to lose a smidgen of our endearing humbleness and recognize, discover and celebrate our innate coolness. So what makes a “cool” city? Is it an abundance of green parks and inviting public spaces? Or is it a sidewalk bistro, an independent bookstore or a farmers’ market? Maybe it's a jazz club or a coffee house, art galleries, a community theater performances, a vibrant music scene, Shakespeare in the Park or a Broadway musical. The concept of “cool” is definitely in the eye of the beholder. Many Oklahoma communities already have attractions and attributes that meet the cool city criteria - and they are gaining steam to raise their cool quotient even more. From the trendy to the earthy, Oklahoma offers many shades of cool. Cultural and Artistic Offerings Let’s start with the obvious. World-class art collections reside in our state’s two largest cities. Tulsa’s Gilcrease and Philbrook Museums and our Capital City’s National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and Oklahoma City Museum of Art are pinnacles of a well-rounded art experience. But the coolness factor goes up a notch when you add in trendy museum cafes, rooftop dining and a revolving door of nationally renowned traveling exhibits. Great art is also accessible in a number of independent galleries and on stages in both cities. Tulsa’s Midwestern Theatre Troupe offers an uncompromisingly creative theater experience. Untitled [ArtSpace], a reclaimed industrial space in Oklahoma City’s historic Deep Deuce district, brings together visual arts, performance, music, film, design and architecture. Lest you think that only big cities have the corner on cool, consider Guymon and Goodwell, both located in the Panhandle. Goodwell is home to Panhandle State University which is developing a reputation for its hands-on art studies program. The college is furnishing artwork to the incredibly successful Wild Horse Gallery in Guymon to help showcase and sell its students’ pottery, painting and other works. About eight hours away in the opposite corner of the state, the Broken Bow area is home to a growing arts and crafts industry driven largely by the art of wood turning. Master wood turner Doug Zook can be credited for propelling the art form forward. In the Forest Heritage Center in Beavers Bend State Park, you’ll find a gallery full of his work and the art of others on display and for purchase. And the list is seemingly endless. Ponca City’s public library has one of the most striking Asian art collections anywhere. Grove on Grand Lake is home to one of the finest regional theater groups in the country. The Leslie Powell Gallery in Lawton not only features the work of regional artists, but is currently displaying art by inmates from the Lawton GEO Federal Corrections Facility with testimonies about how art is changing their lives. Norman is basking in the glow of its growing stature as an arts Mecca with the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of art housing priceless works by Van Gogh, Matisse, Monet, Georgia O’Keefe and other world-renowned artists. It’s also home to the Crucible Foundry, Jacobsen House Arts Center and the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History. Vibrant Live Music Scene The best live and original music in the region is carried on the Oklahoma wind to every corner of the state. Try Tulsa’s Deadtown Tavern, a rockabilly bar where people park and show off their classic cars out front. Some of the hippest music can be heard coming from Tulsa’s Boston Avenue at the Venue or Boston’s. And of course, the crème de la cool, historic Cain’s Ballroom once home to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and now booking almost every genre from bluegrass to college radio favorites. Oklahoma City’s historic VZD’s, once a neighborhood drugstore, has evolved over time into a well-loved music hot spot and hangout. For cutting edge, try the Conservatory, Bricktown Live or the Bricktown Brewery. Two quality musical standouts in Norman include Opolis and the local favorite, The Deli. Oklahoma bluesman D.C. Minner is still as cool as it gets at his Down Home Blues Club in the tiny town of Rentiesville. The Tumbleweed in Stillwater, a breeding ground for the homegrown brand of music known as Red Dirt, remains a favorite for Oklahoma roots music and country and western performers. And, music legends from both ends of the spectrum are celebrated annually in two Oklahoma towns, The Woody Guthrie Festival is held every July in the singersongwriter’s hometown of Okemah, and Bartlesville hosts the citywide OK Mozart Festival in June. Gathering Places and Streetscapes Entire Oklahoma cities qualify for this category. Guthrie, with its Victorian graced and bustling downtown, offers unique shopping, cozy coffee stops, eclectic if not eccentric museums and a variety of dining options. Medicine Park, nestled in the Wichita Mountains near Lawton, was a popular resort community in the1920s and brought back to life today as a cobblestoned enclave of art galleries, gift shops and eateries. There’s Oklahoma City’s growing Asian District, Stockyards City with the newly renovated Rodeo Opry House and the Spanish-mission styled Paseo arts district - an epicenter for Oklahoma City’s original creative class lined with galleries and shops. Over the last 10 years, Donna Prigmore, a potter/bead maker, has occupied a front row seat to watch Tulsa’s Brady Arts District take off. She owns the Boston Artists Gallery and Gallery Beads. In addition to her business, the revitalized and historic district is thriving with new and expanded restaurants and the Tulsa Gathering place, a studio where glass artisans create delicate works in plain view. Ardmore’s downtown stretch of Washington Street is a colorful jumble of shops and the tiny but tasty Hamburger Inn. To the far northwest in the community of Cheyenne, The Village Within offers a refuge of gardens and small houses that provide space for spiritual and personal retreats as well as the chance to create art or purchase eclectic merchandise. Proving they can hold their cultural own, the downtown areas of Edmond, Jenks, McAlester and Muskogee offer plenty of opportunities for strolling, browsing and eating. Just Plain Cool Looking for vintage? Try Historic Route 66. Oklahoma has more of the original route than any other state. The epitome of cool, this 400 mile time capsule swaggers across the state offering a mix of diners, museums and one-of-a-kind attractions. Stop off at the Best Western Trade Winds Courtyard Inn in Clinton and ask for room 215 - the Elvis Suite. The hotel was a favorite stop for the King between Los Angeles and his hometown of Memphis. The room is still outfitted with many of the original furnishings. Now that’s cool.