I met writer, editor, performer, and visual artist Karl Jones at the Tulsa Artist Fellowship as he staged an interactive performance piece starring hand puppets fashioned from paper bags, construction paper, and (presumably) a few dollops of glue. Tonight’s work had audience members don likenesses of famous queer folk and freestyle dance for the other half of the audience. It was silly. It was fun. I played Margaret Cho.
Jones, who currently lives in Brooklyn, has created similar performance-based works (Karl Marks Children’s Hour and Figures in Skating, for example) that he has shown in New York venues like Roseland Ballroom, Magnet Theatre, and the Pyramid Club, to name a few. However, the multi-talented, multi-hyphenate originally hails from Tulsa and, now as the recipient of an artist fellowship there, he frequently travels back and forth between the two cities.
So when this queer traveler wanted to know what’s gay in OK, Jones seemed like the perfect person to ask:
1. What is the best thing about Tulsa?
I feel like I have to give two answers to this question. First, the thing I’m most impressed by in recent years is the willingness on the part of many of the political and community leaders in the city to have tough conversations about Tulsa’s past and how it affects the present. There are so many inspiring people in Tulsa who are working to make a better future for everyone in the city.
And second, I’m a beer nerd and I think the microbrewery scene is unparalleled. Within a 10 to 15 minute radius you can find more than a couple world-renowned breweries and dozens more with awesome interiors and exteriors, built out to enjoy a seriously experimental and enthusiastic brewery culture.
2. What is your favorite tourist attraction?
I think that because of its uniqueness to Tulsa, the Gilcrease Museum of Art continues to be my favorite. Not only does it boast the largest collection of art of the American West, the contemporary curatorial approach embraces and redefines that art with smart nods to all that critical theory you read about the West and cowboy culture in college. Recent exhibitions that have really wowed me include Blake Little’s photography of the gay rodeo and the presentation of the original panels of The Chisholm Kid, a comic book about an African-American cowboy from the 1950s.
3. And the most overrated?
Some people love to talk about how nice south Tulsa is, but I have always thought it was overrated. It’s hard to get to, full of chain stores and really only built to be enjoyed from inside your car. If you’re going to visit suburbia while you’re in town, I’d recommend one with a bit more character, a cool name, and a vibrant Main Street, like Broken Arrow, or Sand Springs.
4. What one thing should every LGBTQ tourist make a point to see/do/experience in Tulsa?
Gosh, I have two answers for this as well. From both a camp and LGBT history perspective, everyone has to see the campus of Oral Roberts University. The architecture is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, unless you’ve been to a trophy shop that got transformed by an enlarging ray gun. Also, the rise of evangelical Christianity played an important role in the fight against LGBT equality and it’s important to know your neighbors, even if you don’t agree with them.
Also, the Italian villa and gardens of the Philbrook Museum of Art (above) in midtown is stunning when the weather is nice and ideal for some thirsty Instagram shots.
5. Where is the best place to meet sexy locals?
The LGBT+ community is pretty enmeshed into straight society from my experience. I’ve been flirted with at art galleries, museums, the airport Chili’s Too, house parties, and pretty much every brewery in downtown and midtown. Plus there are some seriously cute culture vultures at the Saturn Room, a cute Tiki bar in the downtown arts district.
6. Best place to grab brunch?
Queenies, for the name alone! I’ve been eating breakfast and brunch at this adorable little restaurant and bakery in Utica Square (an outdoor shopping mall in midtown) since I was eleven years old and first discovered my love for quiche. The staff has been visibly queer and queer-friendly for decades. I had my first “Bechdel/Fun House keys” moment here with a waiter donning a right lobe earring in 1988.
7. Where is the best place to get a cocktail or coffee?
Ok, so the appropriate response to the word “speakeasy” in Brooklyn is eye-rolling and avoidance, however in Tulsa the speakeasies are still hidden gems. Seeing the beautiful interior of the Bull in the Alley is worth a trip and the subterranean jazz club at Duets rarely disappoints.
Oh, and best coffee hands down goes to Double Shot at 18th and Boston, because true coffee lovers know that the best coffee is served with a little bit of attitude and judgement.
8. Best place to see queer art?
The institutional spaces have done an admirable job of staying relevant, especially highlighting queer artists in their temporary exhibitions. For a greater institutional collection of queer art, and because it’s an amazing museum, head 90 miles east to Walmart Land and see the famed Crystal Bridges Museum. The drive over is gorgeous. There are a few John Singer Sargent works and they’ve done an especially great job of showcasing queer Native artists like Kent Monkman and have strong collections of modern and contemporary artists from outside the New York scene (double heart emoji for their two Grace Hartigans).
And I have to plug the Tulsa Artist Fellowship (caveat, I am a Tulsa Artist Fellow) for the amazing breadth of queer artists making and displaying work throughout Tulsa right now. The open studios experience during First Fridays each month is a fantastic way to see and connect to the queer artists making their work here.
9. And the best neighborhood to spend an afternoon?
I admit that I love a water element and the Arkansas River runs deep in the history of Tulsa. River Parks and the newly adjoined Gathering Place are beautiful and vibrant community spaces and perfect for bike rides, ultimate Frisbee pickup games (the Tulsa Ultimate community is strong!), lazy strolls and more. Not too far away is the chic Brookside neighborhood where you can go for some unique local shopping and food.
10. Who or what is everyone in Tulsa talking about right now?
I’d be lying if I said anything other than the George Kaiser Family Foundation. Everyone is talking about it in Tulsa and in New York City. I have many lifelong friends that have been doing amazing work to lead Tulsa forward over the past few decades, making it an awesome place to live and visit and everything the Foundation has been doing is just expanding that groundwork by leaps and bounds and bringing even more talent and awesomeness into the city, and giving these new Tulsans the resources they need to be honest about Tulsa’s past and to bring everyone into Tulsa’s future.
(Photo above: George Kaiser, center, addresses a few dozen LGBTQ thought leaders at a recent gathering in Tulsa.)