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Steve Liggett, owner of Liggett Studio, is often described as a founder of the downtown Tulsa arts scene. The University of Tulsa graduate – after attending both the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Oral Roberts University – has been an educator, resident artist and artistic director in his 40-plus years in Tulsa, with numerous awards for his art and work in social justice. We caught up with Liggett and got his thoughts on … 

… retiring from
Living Arts after 25 years.

It was time. I’m 67 now, and although I still have lots of ideas, Living Arts needs to be run by a young person who has the energy to take it to new heights.

… his legacy in
the Tulsa Arts District.

My Living Arts’ work has been what Joseph Beuys called “social sculpture,” in that I felt by working with the community’s needs and giving the people a place of freedom of expression, I helped in building the Arts District from its inception. Much of its success is because of David Sharp and George Kaiser, but I think I could also share in that “blooming” and “expansion” history as well.

… Liggett Studio.

Liggett Studio is broken into three parts. The first is Liggett Studio on Kenosha. I present artists, classes, workshops and affordable studio space as a community service, and I have my paper-making studio there. Liggett Pottery on King Street is where I’m making my own ceramic expressions. Shirley [Liggett’s wife] and I are finishing up “The Family Totem,” which combines artwork by our children and grandchildren with images from our travels. And The Artist’s Apartment Above Liggett Pottery is the inn I run. I allow people to enter my world and spend the night there, and even take a pottery lesson if they’d like.

… art as social justice.

I took a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, for the Day of the Dead celebrations there. I went into the graveyards at night and found an amazing combination of prayer and reverence for past loved ones – a blending of raucous drinking and dancing. And I thought, “Why can’t we do this in Tulsa?” It started out small, but eventually grew to attract 30,000 people. And through working and listening to the Hispanic and Latino communities, my work expanded to embrace a social justice mission. I began meeting with immigrant groups and brought in important artists like Jose Torres Tama and funded his Taco Truck Theatre Project. I worked with Inclusion in Art in OKC to curate three exhibitions over the years featuring African-American Oklahoma artists. I organized … Speaking Volumes: Transforming Hate, a series of events that addressed racism and white supremacist groups in Tulsa. The Homeless Project addressed breaking down stereotypes in Tulsa. Crossing Borders addressed immigration issues. My final social justice program, Examining Change, investigated if there had been any change in North Tulsa in the last 25 years. We compared photos taken in the North Tulsa Documentary Project from 1992 to photos taken in 2017. Art can be a vehicle for change in Tulsa. 

Following are additional responses from Steve Liggett, who helped shape the Tulsa Arts District.

… what drew him into the arts.

I lived near the KC Art Institute and would … watch the students making things, and I promised my new wife that I would make her a set of dishes. But as a new husband and soon-to-be father, I felt that I needed a “practical” degree, so I declared as a journalism major at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and then a business major at Oral Roberts University. As I saw the young students studying business, I just felt more compelled to go into ceramics. Then after getting my master’s degree at the University of Tulsa, I … became a single parent and needed to find something that would make some money for my daughter. So, I got a job as a resident artist with the Tulsa Park and Recreation Department.

… why Tulsa.

I love Tulsa. I love its livability, its lack of traffic jams. I love it that you can get to most places in 15-20 minutes. I love the people here. I love the growing understanding of how each person in Tulsa has importance. I love the entrepreneurial spirit here. And I love the great arts community that has helped me fulfill my dreams. Who could ask for more?