Every now and then an event comes along that reminds you how full of talent OKC really is. Plaza Fest was one of those events.
Plaza Fest celebrated its 20th anniversary Sept. 29, and people are still talking about how amazing the experience was. With incredible local musicians, phenomenal local artists, delicious food trucks, and positive vibes all around, Plaza Fest was an all-day-long party with things to do, sights to see, music to listen to, and friends to boogie with.
We sat down with the Plaza crew to talk about what made it so special.
Joel Parks is the Plaza District program assistant. He helped organize and publicize the festival, and he also played banjo with the band Steelwind.
Parks said the festival was a moment to be reminded of the artistic and musical talent in Oklahoma. He felt a sense of community and appreciation at Plaza Fest and said the music in Oklahoma should be heard around the world. Parks said the festival had an all-around positive vibe, and he didn’t see one upset person from sunup to sundown.
“No matter where I was walking, there was people, there were smiles,” Parks said. “It was a beautiful thing to witness. Especially with 20 years in the Plaza, it’s so great to see that we’re still going strong.”
Parks said he’s excited to see districts in Oklahoma come together and build culture in the state.
Selena Skorman is the executive director of the Plaza District Association and the Plaza District Alliance. She said her job is to maintain what the Plaza District is and keep the area artsy, fun, and inclusive.
Skorman said there were about 33 visual artists on 16th street and 39 performing acts on three different stages at Plaza Fest. Festivities included food trucks, a drag show, and a kids area, and all of this was free and open to the public. Skorman said about 30,000 people attended Plaza Fest.
Skorman said the festival serves as a way to invite people to the Plaza who aren’t regular attendees, like people from other parts of Oklahoma.
“It’s a celebration of art, all things local, and the revitalization of the district,” she said.
Skorman said the Plaza District is a haven for artists, and she was really proud of the talent at Plaza Fest this year.
“The music was amazing,” she said. “There was such a diverse range of music. We had hip hop, country, bluegrass, rock, indie, pop, pop rock, experimental. You name it, we had it. So that means there’s something for everyone, and when you have people just work together and collaborate and kind of take ownership of that, you have a really magical event in the end.”
There was a slight change to the structure of the festival this year due to the closure of the Venue on 16th street. They decided to move the stage outside, which is a decision they were happy with because it made the stage more accessible. In addition to that stage, there was one in the backyard ot Summerland, which felt like a not-so-secret secret show, and then the main stage.
Parks said he was blown away by the music this year and found himself wanting to focus more on music in the future because he saw a lot of potential.
“I want music to be more of a center,” Parks said. “The arts festival will always be an arts festival, but the music was so strong this year, and it was like a wake up call, like wow we have the talent in Oklahoma to really have a music festival.”
In addition to music, visual artists lined the streets to showcase their art, and painters covered the plaza walls with murals all day long. Skorman said she loved watching the visual artists interact with guests and show them their art.
“There’s something special when you can walk right up to a visual artist and look at their work and talk to them about it,” Skorman said. “You don’t always get that chance if it’s just in a store or a gallery.”
Parks and Skorman both said one of their biggest takeaways was their thankfulness for the volunteers. The two of them make up the entire Plaza District staff, and the rest of the work was done by the volunteers.
“It was so great to see their enthusiasm in being a part of something bigger, and it just kind of inspired us to do more for next year,” Parks said. “This was the first time I’ve ever put on a festival, and it was incredible to see the volunteers behind the scenes. A lot of people don’t know that we’re a two-person staff, and it was just inspiring to see the level of work and dedication that Oklahoma City citizens want to do to make Oklahoma City a cooler and better place to live.”
Skorman said she and Parks relied on the expertise of their volunteers to put on an event like Plaza Fest. For instance, the performing arts committee picked out the artists.
“Sometimes you just have to step back and let people do their thing, and they did such a great job,” Skorman said.
This Friday, the Plaza District is hosting its annual “Live on the Plaza,” with the theme being “Plazacon” – an event with cosplay contests and performances. “Live on the Plaza” is the second friday of every month on 16th street in Oklahoma City. There will also be a “Day of the Dead” celebration Oct. 28. Both of these events are free and open to the public.
“I just want to thank everyone for coming out,” Skorman said. “It means a lot of us, and that event is our biggest fundraiser, and we’re so thankful to our wonderful partners like Fowler and Oklahoma’s Credit Union, and so I just want to give props to everyone that visited the district and continues to visit the district and all of our wonderful supporters.”