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The Power of the Urban Canvas

Local artists have helped transform many Tulsa-area destinations into open-air exhibitions of urban creativity.

Lindsey Mills
Lindsey Mills
March 28, 2019

Cruising down the streets of Tulsa, it’s easy to spot numerous works of art. Extravagant, colorful murals paint the walls of old buildings and back alleyways in smaller communities like the Brookside District and the larger corners of downtown Tulsa. Some of the murals captivate while some fade seamlessly into their surroundings — each beautiful, each with a story.

In my short time in Tulsa, I’ve admired these murals briefly while driving down the street or walking briskly down a sidewalk. But in my haste to get from one place to another, I have often missed much of the surrounding beauty draped from the city walls.

When it was suggested to me by a friend that I write a story about the abundant works of art painted around T-Town, I jumped on it. I skimmed my memory and weighed the storylines in my mind. A few murals stood out in my thoughts; however, I had no idea just how many lovely works of art are scattered about the city.

According to the Smithsonian, in the U.S., the world of large-scale, outdoor murals can be traced back to the boom of government-commissioned public art under Roosevelt’s New Deal. Over the years, particularly in the ‘60s and ‘70s, graffiti began to appear and evolve alongside the murals, leading to the rise of the street art movement. Beginning in 1984, the Anti-Graffiti Network proposed using murals once again as public works, often to cover up the illegal graffiti coating city walls. It was a combination of both street art and government-commissioned murals that launched a global festival movement to beautify cities across the globe.

After a few minutes Googling “Tulsa murals,” I decided I was bound to find some by simply stepping out my door and moving about the town. You could do the same, I’m sure, and find well-known murals you’ve noticed, but perhaps not admired. If you’d like a little more guidance and direction to some of Tulsa’s most beautiful murals, you can follow my suggested route: down Route 66 and into downtown Tulsa to wander through the Blue Dome District and Tulsa Arts District.

Route 66
In November 2018, the Taken With Tulsa article “Still Kickin’” focused on the attractions along Route 66, but I was equally impressed by the art as I was by the coffee shops, restaurants and shopping. This historic strip of road is home to beautiful works of art from the sides of businesses like Marie’s Route 66 Trading Post (4114 E. 11th St.) to the state names along 11th Street between Allegheny Avenue and Yale Avenue. There are also elaborate paintings on the side of Fuel 66 (2439 E. 11th St.) and the fence of Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios on 66 (1347 E. 11th St.).

Take the drive down 11th Street and try to pick out your favorites before ending up in the heart of downtown Tulsa to seek out more murals on foot.

Blue Dome District
We made it a point one afternoon to simply move around downtown with no particular destination in mind in order to seek out masterpieces we hadn’t seen and to linger around the ones we had.

The Blue Dome District is home to a dense concentration of exceptional art paintings that are often the work of the Clean Hands Army, a mural and design team. (For more info on Clean Hands, check out our feature, “Wonder Walls,” on preview918.‌com.)

Park at the Third Street and Elgin lot to start your viewing with the paint sprawled across the wall of Poppi’s (302 S. Frankfort Ave.).

You can spot murals across from the Blue Dome Market (176 S. Detroit Ave.), and down the road on the walls of Rose Pawn Shop (316 E. 2nd St.).

Tulsa Arts District
Take your wandering northwest to the area that is home to the Woody Guthrie Center (102 E. M.B. Brady St.) and the Brady Theater (105 W. M.B. Brady St.). Options for food and coffee abound if you need fuel to carry on your adventure; we suggest Chimera Café (212 N. Main St.) for lunch.

After your break, move down the street and take a look behind Sette Italian Brick Oven (114 N. Boston Ave.). There, you’ll find a string of paintings in a back alleyway that would otherwise remain unnoticed to a passerby were it not for the intriguing works of art. These murals reminded me how paintings like these make a city come alive; they bring beauty to a slice of earth that would either fade into the background or be unused altogether.

More of our favorite finds include the classic Tulsa postcard mural located next to Provisions Fine Beverage Purveyors (211 N. Boulder Ave.), a colorful oil tower featuring the Tulsa skyline on the side of Baird Manufacturing (220 N. Boston Ave.), and the word mosaic down the alley from Prairie Artisan Ales Brewpub (223 N. Main St.).

What do we do now? I want to hear your suggestions, whether you’re a native Tulsan or a newbie like us. We want to know where to hang out, pig-out, shop ’til we drop, and everything in between. If you know a place with a great story, share it with us so we can go check it out.

Every day is an adventure with our little family, and I’m sharing our story because I think some people can relate. Follow us on Instagram and/or search #TakenWithTulsa or #NewInTtown to check out our latest adventures as we seek out new experiences and share our advice on how to embrace Tulsa.