Kaleidoscope of Cultures: Celebrating Oklahoma’s Unique Identity

We’re not passionate because the world has lost its passion for us.

Student Dancer

RACE Dance Collective's Hip Hop Nutcracker

Hip Hop Nutcracker

Hip Hop Nutcracker

This sentiment resonates with people from so many walks of life, reflecting a universal desire to be seen and understood. Sadly, many cultures, traditions and individuals often remain overlooked or disregarded. At the Oklahoma City Community Foundation and so many nonprofits throughout our community, we believe embracing these differences is at the heart of what makes our community unique.

When the RACE Dance Collective team heard the student’s statement, it hit especially hard. As an organization that lives up to its name – Radical Application of Creative Energy – it has become known for its intentional and authentic efforts to engage with communities. Hearing these words from one of their dancers really reinforced the team’s mission to connect with as many young dancers as possible.

In the spring of 2022, the RACE team was discussing how they could leverage the 10th anniversary of their annual Hip Hop Nutcracker to attract a more diverse audience when they realized they had the answer all along. Their unique rendition of The Nutcracker brings together professional dancers and Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) students to present a fun and compelling twist on this classic show, but it’s more than just a show. The collaboration builds a bond between dancers, inspiring students and helping them to find their place in the world.

As part of this collaboration with OKCPS, the RACE team works with a significant number of Hispanic students, so they started tossing around the idea of a Spanish-translated show. The idea quickly took hold, gaining momentum as they brainstormed.

Their partners at OKCPS and Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC) were extremely supportive, helping them find creative ways to reach and connect with more diverse audiences. Lemuel Bardeguez, the Director of Cultural Programs at OCCC emphasized that access to a performance like this is a rarity for the Hispanic community, making this project particularly impactful. With the support of a Culture & Community iFund grant from the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, RACE was able to offer two free Spanish shows and humanities panels as part of their December performance schedule, receiving an overwhelmingly positive response from the community. 

“This was the first time we had applied for a grant of this magnitude, and OCCF’s support is so humbling,” said Sheri Hayden, RACE Dance Collective’s Executive Director. “I wish more people could be in the lobby after a show and feel that energy or be in that ‘Break A Leg Circle’ before those performances. To see the kids grow and the impact this process has on them from their first rehearsal to that final performance – it’s impossible to put into words how amazing that feels.”

Bringing people together for a shared experience that engages participants, audiences and communities and strengthens the quality of life for our community is exactly what the Oklahoma City Community Foundation had in mind when we established our Culture & Community grant program in 2022.

Since 2010, Oklahoma’s population has grown by 5.5%, according to the 2020 U.S. Census, and with that, the face of Oklahoma is changing. Oklahoma’s diversity is on the rise, and Oklahoma County now includes a Hispanic population of nearly 20%. With the rapid growth of both our city and our state, OCCF saw a need to embrace what helps make this such a special place, both preserving our history and embracing the changes to come.

“Our state holds such a rich diversity of people that helps shape who we are today – from our Native American tribes to our Central and Latin American populations to our vibrant Asian districts. There’s so much to learn and share with one another,” said Leslie Woodward, OCCF Community Programs Manager. “We are excited to help amplify the history and traditions that make Oklahoma so unique while uplifting those cultures we may have never even known were a part of our own community.”

Inspired by the collection of history, art and culture that could be found at the former Kirkpatrick Center in Oklahoma City, OCCF set out to encourage organizations to reach new audiences and share the many cultures that make up Oklahoma, and our community did not disappoint. Through OCCF’s field of interest funds, we were able to bring together resources to support cultural opportunities to maximize their impact and award nine organizations a total of $183,000 in grants in the fall of 2022 to support everything from festivals to dance performances and film premieres.

“These grants have sparked innovation and collaboration,” Leslie said. “Our grantees have extended their projects beyond their initial scope to forge lasting partnerships, which is something we always encourage.”

deadCenter Una Noche participants

deadCenter Una Noche participants.

Oklahoma City’s deadCenter Film embraced the idea of collaboration with open arms, taking their concept of celebrating diverse worldviews and expanding past their annual film festival to a year-round, eight-film series called Continuum that goes out into the community to lay down a cinematic welcome mat for a wide array of people. Through the series, deadCenter highlighted the differences and beauty that can be found in our community by connecting films and filmmakers from different walks of life with people and organizations with similar experiences in culturally significant locations and districts throughout Oklahoma City.

“The beauty of film is that we can immerse ourselves in one another’s lives – we learn and grow from walking in their shoes, especially when their journey is unlike our own,” said Cacky Poarch, Executive Director for deadCenter.

In keeping with the idea that building community requires connection, Continuum provided an opportunity for attendees to participate in pre- or post-screening mingling and Q&As with the filmmakers – and each other. This added experience connected film-goers not only to the filmmakers and organization but also to the community itself.

“With our earliest intentions, we planned to bring the best of our film festival to Continuum programming, but we were pleasantly surprised to see Continuum fueled participation in the film festival itself,” Cacky said. “Not only was it our most diverse audience yet, but we also found that every group highlighted in Continuum had at least one representative who participated in the film festival. When nonprofits talk about full-circle programming, this is the goal – expansion into new audiences and individuals who are activated and engaged in new and existing programming.”

These grants have given us so many opportunities in the past year. They’ve given us the opportunity to learn and grow. They’ve given us the opportunity to understand and inspire. They’ve given us the opportunity to do more. But, above all, they’ve given us the opportunity to showcase our differences and help create a community where people are seen and accepted.

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2023 Annual Report

To see this story and more, view our 2023 Impact Report.