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Red Earth moves moves festival to Shawnee's Grand Casino, announces new OKC event

Brandy McDonnell
Gannett Oklahoma

Silhouetted against the wide windows overlooking the downtown Oklahoma City skyline, Native American fancy shawl dancer Courtney Reeder stayed in constant motion Monday morning to the beat of Mike Kihega's drum.

Her brief demonstration alongside fancy dancer Cecil Gray was an apt metaphor for the big moves Red Earth Inc. announced at the media event inside the Petroleum Club in the under-construction BancFirst Tower.

The nonprofit organization's venerable Red Earth Festival is leaving Oklahoma City even as organizers plan a new autumn event in downtown OKC and a series of statewide collaborative celebrations of Native American art and culture.

"We're changing with the times, and we're kind of charting a new course," said Red Earth Co-Director Eric Oesch.

New and old festivals

The organization's marquee event — the Red Earth Festival, an intertribal celebration of Native art, dance and culture — will move from its longtime home in downtown Oklahoma City to the Grand Event Center at the Grand Casino Hotel & Resort in Shawnee for its 34th edition, scheduled for June 13-14. The Grand Casino is owned by the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

"Very happy to be able to assist in hosting that," said Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corp. CEO Shane Jett, a member of the Red Earth Board of Directors. "This award-winning event has a tremendous impact upon Oklahoma as recent festivals have had an economic impact of over $4 million."

The festival's traditional home, the Cox Convention Center, is expected to eventually be phased out following the opening of the nearly $300 million MAPS 3 convention center, which is under construction and due to be completed later this year.

"The Cox Convention Center will eventually go away, and we had to find a new home because the new convention center doesn't fit our needs. It doesn't have an arena," Oesch said, adding that the Grand Event Center has a theater for the festival's dance showcases.

A favorite aspect of the summer festival, the Red Earth Parade will be staying in downtown OKC but shifting to autumn as part of the new Red Earth FallFest in the Myriad Botanical Gardens.

"It's a great showcase for tribal culture. ... There aren't a lot of Native parades in the United States; I don't know of any others," said OKC Mayor David Holt.

Slated for Oct. 17, the free FallFest will include the parade, a festival market, powwow and more and will anchor Oklahoma City's Indigenous People’s Day celebration. Holt, a member of the Osage Nation, issued proclamations in 2018 and 2019 designating an October celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day in the city.

"It's exciting to us building on Indigenous Peoples Day and now having an event around it," Holt said. "As mayor, all I can do is I issue the fancy pieces of paper, and we've gotta have other people kind of take them on and make something out of them. ... (To) have something that people can come from not just Oklahoma City but from around the state to enjoy, that's fantastic."

Statewide celebrations

Red Earth Inc. is planning several other events throughout the state in 2020, including "Mvskoke Voices," an April 6-June 13 art show at the Seminole Nation Museum in Wewoka that will feature original works by eight esteemed Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole artists; the new Red Earth Spring Market April 18 at the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore; and a partnership with Tulsa Community College including a contemporary art exhibition at the Thomas K. McKeon Center for Creativity in October.

The new events will allow Red Earth Inc. to continue to showcase its esteemed collection of Native American artwork while the new Red Earth Art Center is under construction, Oesch said. The nonprofit reached an agreement last year with BancFirst to relocate the art center to the south lobby of the BancFirst Tower. BancFirst purchased downtown Oklahoma City’s second-tallest building in 2018 and is in the midst of extensive renovations.

Last year, Red Earth Inc. moved its offices out of its former home on the ground floor of the Santa Fe Parking Garage into the BancFirst Tower, and the new art center will open to the public inside tower lobby in 2021.

Cultural tourism

Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell revealed at Monday's event that a record of more than $700 million in state and local tax revenue was generated by the tourism industry last year, up from $680 million.

"So, we are moving in the right direction when it comes to tourism across the state of Oklahoma, and a big reason for that is our sovereign nations. There's no doubt about it. We've seen it in all the research," said Pinnell, the state's Secretary of Tourism and Branding. "No state — absolutely no state — can match our heritage and our history."

Along with the Native American dancers, a trio of Red Earth artists also showed their work at Monday's event, including Citizen Potawatomi painter and woodworker Stuart Sampson, who will be participating in his fifth Red Earth Festival in June.

"I love the move. I think it's great. I hope there's a good turnout. I think it's (been) very convenient here in the city, so it'll be a little bit of a drive. But the facilities there are wonderful. Free parking, which is a plus ... so I think it'll be great, especially for our tribe," said the Edmond artist.

"It was my very first show that I ever did, so it holds a special place in my heart. I can remember being really nervous on my first show and showing up and doing really well. So, I'll be back year after year. I think it's a great thing for our state to showcase the Native cultures."