Lady behind the curtain
Through Tulsa FMAC, Abby Kurin works to connect and promote Tulsa creatives
It’s impossible not to like Abby Kurin. I met Kurin eight years ago when she was a new hire at the Oklahoma Film and Music Office in Oklahoma City. Her desk faced the door and each time I passed it she would always greet me with a pearly white smile, eager to sing the praises of Oklahoma’s film and music scenes.
Between now and then, she was instrumental in recruiting and scouting for films including “The Killer Inside Me,” “August: Osage County,” and “True Grit,” though the latter ended up not coming to Oklahoma. In 2010, she co-created the Buffalo Lounge—a showcase for Oklahoma musicians at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film and Music Festival in Austin.
Kurin then worked as an associate producer, writer, and Tulsa segment host for “Discover Oklahoma,” she continued organizing and traveling to SXSW for the Buffalo Lounge, helped start and edit Art Desk Magazine—a contemporary art magazine published by the Kirkpatrick Foundation in Oklahoma City—and was finally hired away by the City of Tulsa to develop and launch The Mayor’s Film and Music Office. In 2014, that office became a division of VisitTulsa underneath the Tulsa Regional Chamber, and rebranded as the Tulsa Office of Film, Music, Arts, and Culture (Tulsa FMAC).
Kurin prefers everyone say “Tulsa F-Mac.”
“I always joke that it’s a tongue twister,” Kurin said. “ That’s why we really want Tulsa FMAC to catch on.”
In just three years, Tulsa FMAC has caught on in plenty of ways. The office, which recently returned from sponsoring the Oklahoma Room at Folk Alliance International in February, will head south to Austin this month for its third year at SXSW. FMAC will have a presence in South By’s trade show with their Created in Tulsa booth and, later at the music festival, a Tulsa-only music showcase.
“We use the Created in Tulsa booth as platform to promote start-ups, entrepreneurs and arts organizations—basically our creative scene in Tulsa,” said Kurin. “The booth has a more industry focus because we’re selling Tulsa as a whole there.”
In addition to Tulsa FMAC, partners at Created in Tulsa (March 12-15) will include MetKnow, The Mine, Woody Guthrie Center, Circle Cinema, Blue Whale Comedy Festival, Tulsa American Film Festival, XPO, Webb Branding, YelpTulsa, and VisitTulsa.
At the music festival, FMAC hosts Tulsa Boom Factory (March 16)—an official SXSW music day party and nighttime showcase featuring eleven Tulsa bands: Lauren Barth, Mike Dee + Stone Trio, The Ivy, NUNS, Branjae, Travis Linville, HANSON, Casii Stephan and the Midnight Sun, Wink Burcham, BRONCHO, and RVRB.
“It’s always good for us to have a presence down there [at SXSW],” said BRONCHO frontman Ryan Lindsey. “There are tons of people from everywhere that go down there. Everybody’s circles kind of cross, so it’s a good opportunity for anyone from here to get seen by people who could be from anywhere. I’ve played Oklahoma showcases down there before and a lot of people that I work with in the music business always seem excited to go to an Oklahoma event, so for there to just be a Tulsa event I think is pretty awesome.”
“It’s a big deal for us to showcase in Austin,” Kurin said. “South By is a giant beast of a music festival. In three years we will have featured over 33 bands and I’ve only had maybe three turn me down because of scheduling conflicts. Everyone wants to go every year.”
She believes that’s because of consistency—both among her office’s showcase curation and organization, and the talent routinely found in Tulsa.
“It’s cool to create a lineup that shows off everything that your city has to offer. Our lineup consists of jazz, rock, singer-songwriter, country, dream pop—which is my new obsession—I’m really excited.”
Last year, Kurin was able to secure Leon Russell for a spot at the Boom Factory.
“The fact that we got Leon before he passed away last year just kind of blows my mind. That was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Besides providing visibility for Tulsa bands at SXSW, Tulsa FMAC also advertises in Austin to promote the shows, pushes them on social media and provides the bands a stipend to play.
“They get a lot of love,” Kurin said. “And hopefully they feel it.”
Of course, the SXSW showcase isn’t the only way FMAC shows Tulsa musicians love. The office also hosts a bi-monthly panel and mixer series that brings industry experts together to discuss a particular topic, alternating each time between music and film.
Launched last February, the first panel included Cain’s Ballroom co-owner Chad Rodgers, musician Graham Colton, and “The Oklahoma Rock Show” co-host Ryan LaCroix, and was moderated by Tulsa World music writer Jerry Wofford. The most recent panel, held last November, hosted HANSON talking about the process of making an album and their passion for being in Tulsa. After a few months’ break, the series will return in March.
“The panels are great,” said Tulsa-based filmmaker Sterlin Harjo. “FMAC is helping bridge the gap between musicians and filmmakers. The panel series brings a lot of people out and facilitates networking in the city. I’ve hired people that I met at those panels. The subject of the panels are all very different, too, so every time they have one you’ll have a different crowd of people there to hear the panelists speak.”
Additionally, Kurin works with musicians and festival organizers to promote new albums and shows here in town. Recently FMAC helped announce MisFEST, the new female-led music festival coming this May, after meeting with the organizers and brainstorming and helping fine-tune their vision.
“I like to say that we connect a lot of dots—whether it be promotion for musicians, brainstorming marketing ideas, helping festival organizers, or doing a big feature in the chamber report or our visitors guide.”
Kurin refers to her office as “we,” though she is Tulsa FMAC’s sole employee.
“But it takes a team to get stuff done,” said Kurin. “Someone writes for the visitor’s guide, someone paints the mural. I help connect the dots. My colleagues are under Tulsa Regional Tourism.”
“One side [of the office] is of course promoting Tulsa as a creative hub and cultural destination. The other side is developing resources within the city.”
Those resources also include film resources—Tulsa FMAC became an official film commission through the Association of Film Commissioners International in January 2016 and is the only city film commission in Oklahoma.
Through this designation, the office is working to make Tulsa an attractive place not just for out-of-town filmmakers, but for hometown talent and locally helmed productions, such as the documentary “Boomtown: An American Journey,” which was produced here
“We do everything from writing letters of support, making sure that everything’s covered with insurance, [helping source] attorneys or film crews—you name it. We scout locations. Most recently we helped connect the feature film ‘Starbright’ here. We worked with ‘Let Me Make You a Martyr’ two years ago. We don’t really say no, we figure out how to make it work for everybody.”
For Kurin, the key to all of this working is consistency and visibility.
“We return to Sundance every year and co-host the Oklahoma Film Party at Sundance. It’s important that we continue to stay present in people’s minds.”
In September 2016, as the leader of an eight month-old film commission, Kurin won first place at the Association of Film Commissioners International in the categories of film advertisement and logo and took second place in best swag. International competitors included film commissions from California, France, Vienna, and Argentina.
“By September, as a first-time film commissioner, to win all those awards among our peers was pretty cool. But it’s all about what we have to offer here. It really was Tulsa speaking
As for the “arts and culture” part of FMAC, Kurin said her office is still tackling how best to be a booster in those areas. They recently worked with Tulsa Ballet to feature them on the cover of VisitTulsa’s visitors guide, which has a distribution of 40,000 and a six-month shelf life. They also helped coordinate and fund the mural of Bob Wills and his tour bus next to the Ross Group and across from the Fur Shop downtown, as well as the Aaron Whisner mural on the Mayo parking garage at 4th and
“It’s evolving,” she said. “We’re a big proponent of public art. And we work with different arts organizations to highlight them in ways that maybe they haven’t been before. There are so many incredible arts organizations and we don’t need to dilute that. How do we help make them stronger? How do we promote them? For us to fine-tune our arts and culture side, it might take a while. I think we’re gaining some traction with film and music and I hope we get to implement a lot of really cool projects over the next few years.”
“It’s definitely a long title for the office,” she winked. “But I think we’re getting there.”
Tulsa FMAC will be at the SXSW Trade Show March 12-15. Look for their ‘Created in Tulsa’ booth.
Then, find them at the SXSW Music Festival on Thursday, March 16 at Bungalow, 92 Rainey St.:
3rd Annual Tulsa Boom Factory, 11am-5pm
Lauren Barth, Mike Dee + Stone Trio, The Ivy, NUNS, Branjae, Travis Linville
Tulsa Music Showcase, 7pm-2am
HANSON, Casii Stephan and the Midnight Sun, Wink Burcham, BRONCHO, RVRB
For more from Liz, read her article on First Street Flea.