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Artist brings beer and sculpture garden to Norman

August 12, 2018

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Repurposing just got a lot more interesting.

Norman’s emerging arts district and Second Friday Art Walk are bringing out some creative concepts for the city’s near future, like Trailer Garden planned for 105 W. Comanche west of the tracks and The Depot.

Trailer Garden is the concept and work-in-progress of Oklahoma native Noah Sanders, who will repurpose shipping containers into restrooms and is turning trailers into service stations to sell craft beer and other beverages. Repurposing shipping containers and old trailers as urban architecture isn’t new, but it may be new to Norman.

“This is the first one that’s actually active that they’ve got in permits,” said Norman Retail Marketing Coordinator Sara Kaplan. “Noah is an artist, as well, so I know he’s building some cool things.”

Sanders earned an art degree from the Kansas City Art Institute, and he envisions hosting a variety of art exhibits as well as competitions, games, live music and other performances on an outdoor stage at Trailer Garden.

“Having been an artist that grew up in the country and also in the Osage Nation — I’m a Native — I’m very rural.” Sanders said. He wanted to highlight the beauty “that can be found when you’re looking for it” by bringing it to Norman’s urban core.

Designing the park around the theme of rural Oklahoma, Sanders will use timbers from local forests and Oklahoma red-dirt stucco to create a chic minimalist design that juxtaposes natural and industrial elements, the Norman Transcript reported.

Clients will be able to walk up to the trailer service station for drinks including locally brewed craft beer and buy food from a variety of food trucks. Open air picnic tables or seating under a shaded area will be available at the park.

Sanders proposed Trailer Garden as a “new type of building development for the city center, based on Norman’s recent adoption of the new Center City Form Based Code,” according to his proposal.

The city building permit for Trailer Garden was issued in July. Sanders hopes to open the Trailer Garden in mid- to late October.

Norman developer Richard McKown served on committees that worked on developing the Center City Vision and the resulting form-based code that’s designed to allow that vision to unfold. McKown said he fought to make sure the form-based code would not eliminate the type of projects architect Bruce Goff would have designed.

Goff was a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright but considered more avant-garde in his use of curvilinear designs and natural materials for indoor spaces. Allowing for that type of innovation in the Center City project area can be a magnet that will draw creative projects to Norman, McKown said.

“I feel really great that something magical is happening, and we didn’t make the form-based code such a mess that it couldn’t happen,” McKown said of Sanders’ Trailer Garden. “I love what he is doing. He’s connecting to nature and to Oklahoma.”

Though shipping containers have been repurposed since at least the 1960s, the current trend — using them as urban architecture that also makes use of outdoor spaces and blends art and retail — may have gotten its start in San Francisco in 2010.

There, shipping containers were repurposed into Proxy, a park that included a “clothing boutique, beer garden, espresso café, ice-cream parlor and bicycle rental business”... along with restrooms, among other things.

Similar projects have popped up in throughout the nation. Proxy also included rotating art exhibits — something that sounds well suited to Norman’s Walker Arts District and Friday art walks.

“Even locally, Oklahoma Contemporary has stacked several of those together to make a small gallery,” said Norman Arts Council Executive Director Erinn Gavaghan. “There’s probably four or five of them together. That’s on the property where they’re building a new contemporary gallery on Broadway in Oklahoma City.”

Gavaghan said the OU School of Visual Arts set one such project up for a few weeks about three years ago, but she isn’t aware of any longer term projects such as the beer garden being proposed for Norman.

Sanders’ journey to the Trailer Garden concept started on Padre Island beach in Texas.

“I was actually in a really crazy place the beginning of last year,” Sanders said. “I’d just gotten a divorce, and I’d lost my job of eight years with the state of Oklahoma, and I lost my house because my wife got it in the divorce and, then, my dog died.

“I was jobless, I was homeless and I was living on the beach in a horse trailer on Padre Island. I had a friend who lived in Corpus Christi, and I was helping him build a beer garden down there. I had been to the beer gardens in Oklahoma City and Edmond. I knew Norman needed one.”

Sanders had lived in Norman for nine years prior to his divorce and escape to Padre Island. Despite being down on his luck, it was a transitional time that proved highly cathartic.

“Honestly, I had fun living on the beach,” he said. “I’d been at a very rigid office job for eight years. Having all this happen to me was liberating. For a guy with an art degree, it was coming back to my roots in a lot of ways. It was rejuvenating.”

Sanders said dogs will be welcome at the Trailer Park as long as they are well behaved and accompany their humans on leashes in accordance with city rules. He even has some canine amenities planned.

The Trailer park will also be available for rent for special events like weddings and parties. Sanders said he imagines weddings in front of the bone curtain he styled out of recovered bovine and other bones.

“I’m going to have a few permanent sculpture pieces, and we’ll have rotating art exhibits,” he said.


Information from: The Norman Transcript, http://www.normantranscript.com

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