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Closing of ahha Tulsa puts future of Mayfest, other programs in limbo

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The sudden shuttering of the nonprofit arts organization ahha Tulsa and its Hardesty Arts Center on Friday has put a number of popular arts programs — including the annual Tulsa Mayfest — in limbo.

Officials with the organization announced the Tulsa Arts District center’s closure Thursday evening — coincidentally just before the district’s monthly First Friday Art Crawl — and that ahha Tulsa was ceasing operations.

In a statement released Thursday, the organization said it is “working closely with our partners to ensure we find a long-term future for some of our programs and do this as quickly as possible.”

These programs include Tulsa Mayfest, which ahha Tulsa took control of in March 2020, as well as such long-running efforts as Any Given Child, the national arts outreach program created by the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to provide in-person arts experiences for all public school students in a community; Artists in the Community, which connects local artists with people of all ages to spark their creativity; and Art of Healing, an art therapy program in partnership with Hillcrest Medical Center.

The 2023 Mayfest would mark the festival’s 50th anniversary.

Jason Cleary, vice president of communication and advocacy for the ahha Tulsa Board of Directors, said in an email to the Tulsa World, “I don’t have specifics to share, but we are focused on long-term solutions for our programs, and that includes Mayfest.”

The ahha Tulsa website states on its homepage: “During the past few years, our community has seen some of the most challenging economic, political and social times in recent history,” which led to its decision to close the Hardesty Arts Center.

In addition to its own programs, the Hardesty Arts Center has hosted events by other Tulsa arts organizations, most recently Heller Theatre Co.’s “Heller Shorts” production.

Chamber Music Tulsa had planned to present the Maxwell String Quartet in concert at the center on Nov. 11. Executive Director Bruce Sorrell said that concert has been moved to Studio 308, at 308 S. Lansing Ave.

As a 501c(3) organization, ahha Tulsa must file a Form 990, which is the tax return form for entities exempt from income tax. The ahha Tulsa website has posted its 990s, or audited statements, for the years 2013 (when the Hardesty Arts Center opened) to 2018.

With the exception of 2017, when the organization sold what had been its longtime home, the Harwelden Mansion, for $2.9 million, ahha Tulsa has operated at a loss, ranging from $632,063 in 2013 to $1,270,652 in 2018.

Ahha Tulsa was originally founded in 1961 as the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa as a service organization to help bring the arts together and to take the arts to area schoolchildren.

The organization moved into the Hardesty Arts Center, 101 E. Archer St., in December 2012. The building was dubbed “ahha,” an acronym fashioned from the initials for “arts” and “humanities,” “Hardesty” and “arts.” The organization would later change its name officially to ahha Tulsa.

The 42,000-square-foot, four-story Hardesty Arts Center contains exhibition space, which is currently housing the exhibits “Sticker Book” by Tulsa Art Fellow Julie Alpert; “The Experience,” an interactive collection of exhibits, many with a science fiction theme, that occupies much of the second floor; and “Kings Mouth,” an interactive work created by Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips; as well as studios and classrooms, a photography suite, wood shop, media lab, library and spaces that artists can rent for specific projects.

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