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Artistic expansion: Factory Obscura is growing its home on Automobile Alley

A giant paper airplane flies over Kelsey Karper's head in a yellow room devoted to exploring the emotion of angst.

The new addition to the Factory Obscura artist collective's immersive "Mix-Tape" attraction, the adolescent-inspired adornment covers a fair swath of the ceiling.

But it's nothing compared to what's coming.

Less than a year after opening to the public in the Automobile Alley landmark formerly known as The Womb, Factory Obscura is expanding its permanent home by summer, with longer term plans to develop a multimillion-dollar indoor-outdoor immersive art campus on NW 9 Street.

"The response has been great, and people seem really excited and hungry for more," said Karper, Factory Obscura co-founder and director of logistical creativity. "We would like to continue to grow here on Ninth Street and expand on what we have already built, because while this building is not big enough to hold all of the ideas that we started with, it does contain a lot of those components, especially now that we're going to have a performance space."

The arts collective plans to open a performance venue, cafe, lounge and business incubator in the 7,000 warehouse space on the east end of its building at 25 NW 9. The space was previously used as the artists' workshop, which Factory Obscura has now moved to the previously vacant building at 8 NW 8.

“Factory Obscura has brought opportunities to experience something truly unique to our city and the Automobile Alley district. Oklahoma City is quickly becoming known as an arts and cultural destination and Factory Obscura’s presence has only enhanced that," said Jane Jenkins, president and CEO of Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership, in an email. "Their new expansion will benefit the entire district, bringing more people to the neighborhood and further opportunities for collaboration in our community."

The collective has already booked the first event in the planned space: a June 18 performance by Perpetual Motion Dance Company, which will use it for two consecutive weekends of shows.

Finding home

Following the success of two temporary immersive art attractions — "Shift" in 2017 and "Beyond" in 2018 — Factory Obscura moved in October 2018 into The Womb, a one-time headquarters for Oklahoma City-based psychedelic rockers The Flaming Lips that had become a draw without ever being consistently open to the public.

In March, Factory Obscura opened the building to the public with the Lips' "King's Mouth," an interactive art installation, occupying the lobby and the art collective's "Boom Box," a giant interactive tape deck, in the building's front window. In six months, almost 10,000 visitors entered The Womb while the artists built their first permanent immersive experience, the 7,000-square-foot music-inspired "Mix-Tape."

Since opening in September, about 15,000 people have pushed play on "Mix-Tape."

"It feels like home for us now, and it also feels like just the perfect location for us," Karper said. "Especially with Oklahoma Contemporary opening just a couple blocks away, this is a new kind of identity for this part of town to be a destination for art and culture — and we really want to embrace that."

The artists have just completed their first round of updates on "Mix-Tape" — the giant paper airplane, a plush clam with a version of the game "Simon Says" tucked inside, a cozy nook called the "Affirmation Cactus" that murmurs encouraging thoughts — but Tammy Greenman, Factory Obscura co-founder and director of strategic creativity, said the collective is ready to move to the next phase.

Filling needs

By summer, Karper said the planned expansion will offer a performance space for artists and musicians that can accommodate 400 people standing and 125 to 150 seated. Jeremiah Matthew Davis, artistic director at Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center, said Factory Obscura's performance space will be a welcome addition.

"We need a lot more spaces for performance in this town. We really don't have enough big, open theatrical or music venues for the population that we have and for the number of arts groups that we have without permanent homes," Davis said. "That's a major boon to the community."

Factory Obscura's business incubator will provide a 300-square-foot space for artistic or creative startups to use for a period of one month to one year.

"It will be a focus on diverse ownership, so who are folks in the city who need a little boost to get their idea off the ground," Greenman said.

"Or maybe the idea is kind of weird, and you just don't know if it's gonna work or not and it would be hard to commit to a full year of rent in a space," Karper added.

Planning for 'The Big One'

The summer opening of its expanded space isn't the end of Factory Obscura's plans.

"Since we started in 2017, we've had this bigger vision of having like 50,000 to 60,000 square feet — what we call 'The Big One' — for more immersive experience space but also to have room for our arts education programming," Karper said.

"In announcing that we are expanding here in this building, we also are sharing that this is actually the next step towards our plan to create a campus for immersive art here on Ninth Street."

The group has begun raising funds to build a new three-story building in what is now a gravel parking lot across the street from its current location. The master plan also calls for closing NW 9 Street between the buildings and converting it to a public park called "The Grove" with sculptural gardens and interactive outdoor experiences as well as creating a pedestrian thoroughfare with light installations and sculptures in the alleyway that connects Factory Obscura to the new Oklahoma Contemporary campus at NW 11 and Broadway. The estimated cost for the project, including the completed "Mix-Tape," is $12 million, Karper said, with $2 million already raised.

"This sort of immersive, large-scale neighborhood/campus has never really been attempted before. So, that would be one of a kind currently here in the country," Greenman said.

With Oklahoma Contemporary's new $30 million home opening in March, Davis said he is thrilled that Factory Obscura is investing in Automobile Alley, too.

"Investment and this kind of cultural development begets more investment and more cultural development, so I think that in five years' time, we'll see a radical transformation of that area of town — and it's already underway," he said.

Related Photos
<strong>Kelsey Karper, Factory Obscura's co-founder and Director of Logistical Creativity, talks about some of the changes to the art attraction "Mix-Tape" at Factory Obscura in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Kelsey Karper, Factory Obscura's co-founder and Director of Logistical Creativity, talks about some of the changes to the art attraction "Mix-Tape" at Factory Obscura in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-a8b52d321db512a20723ce89b5c3c640.jpg" alt="Photo - Kelsey Karper, Factory Obscura's co-founder and Director of Logistical Creativity, talks about some of the changes to the art attraction "Mix-Tape" at Factory Obscura in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] " title=" Kelsey Karper, Factory Obscura's co-founder and Director of Logistical Creativity, talks about some of the changes to the art attraction "Mix-Tape" at Factory Obscura in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Kelsey Karper, Factory Obscura's co-founder and Director of Logistical Creativity, talks about some of the changes to the art attraction "Mix-Tape" at Factory Obscura in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-3848467db5808874fe1aa5c72a072440.jpg" alt="Photo - A giant paper airplane is one of the new additions to the art attraction "Mix-Tape" at Factory Obscura in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] " title=" A giant paper airplane is one of the new additions to the art attraction "Mix-Tape" at Factory Obscura in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> A giant paper airplane is one of the new additions to the art attraction "Mix-Tape" at Factory Obscura in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-9d10bdd21dd5f916b77e1f90ade4062b.jpg" alt="Photo - A view of the former workshop for Factory Obscura, which will be expanded into a performance space, lounge and cafe at 25 NW 9 St., in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] " title=" A view of the former workshop for Factory Obscura, which will be expanded into a performance space, lounge and cafe at 25 NW 9 St., in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> A view of the former workshop for Factory Obscura, which will be expanded into a performance space, lounge and cafe at 25 NW 9 St., in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-417d88f442caede69869a04ee85a2633.jpg" alt="Photo - Kelsey Karper, Factory Obscura's co-founder and Director of Logistical Creativity, talks about expansion plans for Factory Obscura in Autombile Alley in downtown Oklahoma City, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] " title=" Kelsey Karper, Factory Obscura's co-founder and Director of Logistical Creativity, talks about expansion plans for Factory Obscura in Autombile Alley in downtown Oklahoma City, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Kelsey Karper, Factory Obscura's co-founder and Director of Logistical Creativity, talks about expansion plans for Factory Obscura in Autombile Alley in downtown Oklahoma City, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1... Read more ›

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