Many thought it was a mistake when the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma announced that the gift shop would close in 2019. It was indicative of the kinds of inexplicable decisions the president of the OU, James Gallogly, has taken during his less than a year in office. There is no major art museum in the United States without a gift shop, and most have other amenities for visitors, as well as cafes.
The Fred is undoubtedly a world-class art museum, and a temporary gift shop has been restored there. OU has partnered with Factory Obscura to open a “pop-up shop” in the former gift shop space during the current “Synesthesia” event, a new temporary immersive Factory Obscura experience. The experience and shop are scheduled to be open during normal museum hours until June 4.
Tammy Greenman, co-founder of Factory Obscura and director of strategic creativity, helped bring the pop-up store concept to The Fred.
“We were approached to create something for the museum,” Greenman said. “We came to visit and noticed that the store was closed. After waiting a bit, we posed the following question: “What might it look like if we took over the store, in addition to creating the Synesthesia experience?”
The management of the museum was receptive.
“What we love to do in our stores is showcase local artists,” Greenman said. “It’s to bring new and different items to the community for sale. It’s a way of bringing income to artists, which is good for us. and it can showcase the art that is in Oklahoma. When people come from out of state or out of town, they get more exposure to our local art, in addition to some of the things in the museum’s permanent collection, as well as traveling pieces that come through.
The shop currently features artwork for sale by more than 20 central Oklahoma artists. Many are Normandy residents and UO graduates or students.
“We just put out a big call for artists, and I want to get more here,” Greenman said. “We’re going to have more ceramics and handmade quilting, as well as real quilts from local quilters – a mix of what a typical museum visitor would enjoy in a new and different way and what a Factory Obscura fan would love.”
Items include mixed media pieces, paintings, prints, small textile sculptures, handmade home decorations, table runners and potholders.
“We have handmade jewelry, including high-end pieces,” she said. “We will have traditional wall art, as well as functional art, including small dorm-sized side tables. Handmade tapestries and wall hangings are coming. Students will be able to shop for themselves and their rooms and gifts for family members, as well as Normandy residents and passers-by.
Handcrafted pieces with a unique atmosphere in the region are available. Norman artists active on the scene who have worked in the shop now include Kelley Queen, Chris McDaniel and Michael Takahata.
“We want people to come to Norman and spend an entire day here,” Greenman said. “Come to the museum, go downtown and visit the local businesses.”
“Alivia Garcia is a 12-year-old local teen who was inspired by the Synesthesia experience and made these really adorable felt snails,” she said. “We will sell them and also love to support young artists.”
The gift shop reopened in June and the response from visitors has been very positive.
“People who used to shop here are excited,” Greenman said. “We want to have things that you might not find in a regular museum shop. We really want it to feel local, connected to the museum collection and to Norman and Oklahoma.
Factory Obscura envisions a broader presence in Norman, including the possibility of a presence in the downtown arts district.
“The plans are to see what’s possible,” she said. “We are in discussions with the city and the local community about what that might look like. Nothing is signed or firm. This is an exploratory, hypothetical scenario.
Greenman’s resume includes promoting other culture-focused destinations. She was part of the movement in Atlanta that developed the Little Five Points (“Lil’ Five”) neighborhood. It has been described as a melting pot of subcultures and the bohemian center of the southern United States.
“I have experience creating experiential retail spaces,” she said. “I love what I’m doing now, because it showcases the work of individuals and puts that work in front of people who may not have seen it before. One of our main missions is to bring money to artists.
“Art is work, and it must be paid for. It’s exciting to me, and I just like bringing fun stuff to people, with a sense of playfulness and openness and wonder. It’s in the Synesthesia experience and also in the shop area.