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Creatively creepy

Tulsa Girls Art School explores the work of Charles Addams

Kaitlin Kneable

Courtesy of Tulsa Girls Art School

“Joanna, unicorn out of your own head...” 

It’s a gentle nudge, but Matt Moffett’s comment is enough to make two giggling eighth graders at Tulsa Girls Art School get their eyes and ideas back onto their own papers.

The nonprofit, also known as TGAS, provides visual arts training to underserved elementary and high school age girls in Tulsa. Decked out with whimsical, sophisticated student work, easels crowded corner to corner and wide, ink-splattered tables, the TGAS studio is a haven for creation. Advanced students have the freedom to create as they please, while the intermediates and ‘littles’ usually work from a theme or prompt.

This summer, the girls have been building on the work of Charles Addams, the mastermind behind nearly 60 years of The New Yorker cartoons and the famed Addams Family series. Their Addams-inspired works (think unicorn-mermaid hybrids, skeletons and more) will be available at the school’s annual gala (and biggest source of funding), “Inspiring Individuality: The Addams Family,” November 12 at the Cox Business Center Ballroom. 

Aside from the gala, TGAS runs on foundation support, art sales and community members’ donations and student sponsorships. Sustained engagement in students’ lives gives TGAS unique reach and continuity. Students get connected with the program in third grade via a feeder school, and many stay with it until high school graduation. The girls-only environment allows for hyper-focused opportunities and training that’s hard to achieve in a co-ed setting.

In addition to creating pieces for auction or sale at TGAS events, students receive free art education and instruction, materials, meals, travel, occasional health care and mentoring. 

“It’s just our way of doing social work through art,” says Moffett, a local artist and the school’s executive director.

Financial education also factors into the school’s services. Each young artist has her own micro-savings account, which receives 30 percent of proceeds from the work she sells through TGAS events and shows. All proceeds from students’ senior exhibits are deposited into their accounts to help pay for college (many are first-generation college-bound students). The girls may also use the funds for art and school supplies and their annual art trip. 

Though Addams’ work makes for an unusual curriculum, his style and philosophy fit perfectly with TGAS’ playful approach to individuality and creative expression. 

“Every kid’s interests are different here, so I like them to learn about all different kinds of mediums and artists,” Moffett says. “Also, to learn about such an American icon as the Addams Family, the first gothic family to exist in America—especially in the ‘50s when it became really popular, it was just the polar opposite of the perfect family or housewife. Historically, it’s pretty amazing.”

In typical TGAS fashion, the Addams-inspired gala is sure to be like no other fundraiser in town.

“This year, it’s going to be fog on the floor, creepy things, the Addams Family theme, and the girls are making this odd art that we’re going to have for sale,” Moffett says. “We just try to think outside the box. Tulsa’s been so good about supporting us, so we want to give them something fun back.” 

Prior to the gala, with help from the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation, TGAS will showcase more than 50 of Addams’ original works for the first time in the Midwest, alongside art by TGAS students. The free exhibit at the Zarrow Center for Art and Education opens August 7.

For more from Megan, read her article on OKC songwriter Samantha Crain

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