As downtown Springdale enjoys a whole new vibrant life -- with people strolling, shopping, dining and drinking -- it boasts one attraction unique to Emma Avenue. The historic Famous Hardware building has become an art gallery, currently showcasing an installation from Oklahoma City-based Factory Obscura. Because the exhibition space is viewed solely through the two-story windows, choosing the right art has been both a joy and a challenge for curator Dayton Castleman.
"The size of the spaces has a lot to do with it," says Castleman of the choices he's made since the Famous Hardware exhibitions began in February. "The work has to have a certain presence and scale to hold or carry the spaces. So that's one of my criteria. Another important one is work that will get people's attention while they're minding their own business walking down the street -- work with enough draw or appeal visually to make a person stop and look in, since it's inaccessible other than through the windows.
"Factory Obscura creates completely immersive experiences that fit the monumental scale of the building," adds Castleman, whose work as curator is through Verdant Studio, an art and architecture firm in Rogers where he is director of visual thinking. "And they embrace the way interactivity and technology incorporated into the work can be interesting to the viewer. They even figured out ways to make it interactive through the glass."
The installation is titled "BRAIN TO BRAIN PAPER PLANE," and Kelsey Karper, co-founder of Factory Obscura, says it presented a unique challenge.
"Factory Obscura's work is always interactive and immersive, and creating something to be experienced through the storefront windows provided a new challenge for us to work in a new way," Karper explains. "Similarly, in 2019 we created a larger-than-life-sized Boombox on our building in Oklahoma City. The Boombox is interactive, and available to be experienced 24 hours a day. The interactive nature of our work brings something new to the storefront windows in downtown Springdale, which we hope gives people a new reason to visit Emma Avenue, perhaps even for the first time.
"'BRAIN TO BRAIN PAPER PLANE' is a multimedia world, handcrafted by the artists, illustrating how ideas can grow and evolve through the act of creative collaboration, which is at the heart of all of Factory Obscura's work," she goes on. "Visitors can expect to experience a multi-sensory representation of the artists' creative process, and they are invited to participate in the work through interactive touch-sensors placed on the window glass."
It all goes back to Factory Obscura's founding in 2017, Karper says.
"A mysterious email was sent to potential artistic collaborators, and we dove in with an introductory meeting with about 30 artists," she remembers. "We talked through the vision of what we wanted to create and quickly realized we had the artistic capacity here in Oklahoma City to explore some bigger questions, including: What would an artistic experience that gave space for wonder, joy, and play for all ages look like? What would it look like to employ and pay artists as the professionals they are? How can we create common experiences that transcend the everyday?
"By posing these questions, and many others, to ourselves and seeking to answer them through our experiences, we see ourselves changing the world," Karper explains. "By allowing space for people to feel their feelings and share a common experience in community with others, we are creating a framework for joy and exploration that encourages the sharing of wonder. By paying thriving wages with good benefits, we help strengthen the experience economy and provide more good-paying jobs that add to our community's well-being. By working to ensure our experiences are accessible on all levels, physically, emotionally and financially, we are striving to create equitable access to these sorts of artistic experiences. We believe the future is collaborative, and that the future is now."
For the Downtown Springdale Alliance, which programs the Famous Hardware windows with funding from the Tyson Family Foundation, "art experiences like Factory Obscura strengthen communities at their core by bringing people together for a unique shared experience," says Jill Dabbs, executive director. "The energy these experiences inject into our downtown drive foot traffic, economic development and curiosity for what's happening next. Public art reflects how much a community is loved."
The Tyson Family Foundation was introduced to Factory Obscura's work through the King's Mouth installation hosted in partnership with the Arts Center of the Ozarks in the fall of 2019. "We look to create platforms that encourage engagement and experimentation," says Olivia Tyson of the foundation.
The real key to the Famous Hardware installations is universal accessibility, concludes Castleman.
"It's work that no matter who you are, there's something to enjoy about viewing it or to identify with while viewing it, even if it's the simple pleasure of spectacle," he says. "An easy read on one level but also work that has layers of sophistication that might not be immediately apparent on the surface -- work that if you choose to dwell with it and dig a little deeper, the layers can continue to unfold. Those are the challenges combined with the scale and the desire to meet the expectations of the client that are all part of the formula -- not that any of it is formulaic."
‘BRAIN TO BRAIN PAPER PLANE’
WHEN — Through Nov. 8; the installation can be viewed day or evening
WHERE — Famous Hardware, 113 W. Emma Ave. in Springdale
COST — Free
INFO — factoryobscura.com/news/downtown-springdale
FYI — Watch downtownspringdale.org for events connected to the installation.