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OKC Zoo Announces Plans for New Marine Mammal Habitat Expansion

As a leader in animal care and wellbeing, the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is proud to announce plans for its next expansion project, a new marine mammal habitat. Construction will begin Spring 2023 on this premier animal habitat that will be home to the Zoo’s California sea lions, harbor seals and potentially other species. This additional space will provide an expanded and enriched habitat for these coastal animals while creating an exciting opportunity for guests to enjoy them from a fresh perspective.

While the habitat is being constructed, the Zoo’s sea lion family including males Xander, 19, and Cash, 5, and females Piper, 22, Addie, 22, Pearl, 19, Phoenix, 6, and Isla, 4, as well as harbor seals, Liberty, 20, and Bixby, 10, will all be temporarily relocated to other Association of Zoos and Aquariums member zoos and aquariums. The Zoo’s marine mammal caretakers will be shifting to work in other animal areas throughout this transition.

Wildlife fans interested in “sea”ing our marine mammals before they move are encouraged to attend the Zoo’s sea lion presentations occurring at 1 p.m. daily and 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays now through Sunday, October 30. Sea lion presentations will be a featured attraction at the new habitat that will resume once the project is completed in 2025. Additionally, the Zoo’s Wild Encounter experience with sea lions will conclude on Sunday, October 30.

Dean A. McGee Awards Recipient

Three business and civic leaders are honored each year at the Dean A. McGee Awards hosted by Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership (DOKC). The ceremony is named after Dean A. McGee, an Oklahoma City business leader who chaired the Kerr-McGee Corporation from 1963 to 1983 and led efforts to construct the Myriad Gardens.

Presented by DOKC, tickets to the Dean A. McGee Awards are available to the public each year. The 2020 edition was postponed due to the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will be celebrating the honorees in July 27, 2021 at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. If interested in purchasing tickets to this event, call (405)235-3500 and for sponsorship opportunities contact Jones PR at (405) 516-9686.

2021 Honorees:

Cathy O’Connor will receive the Dean A. McGee Award for her lifetime contributions to downtown. Nancy Anthony will receive the Stanley Draper Award for her efforts in community excellence, and Donald Beck has earned the Neal Horton Award for his revitalization of downtown.

The awards benefit Downtown Oklahoma City Initiatives, which funds public art and other downtown improvement projects.

Opening Weekend – McKnight Center for the Perfoming Arts

Grand opening: OSU launches inaugural season for McKnight Center for the Performing Arts, including Kelli O'Hara and Sarah Coburn

Reuniting with the New York Philharmonic, Oklahoma native Kelli O'Hara earned strong reviews for her September performance of Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915" at New York's Lincoln Center, with the New York Times praising it as "tender, subtly expressive and glowing," with the James Agee's nostalgic text "rendered by Ms. O’Hara with disarming directness and clarity."

Oklahomans will have the chance to judge for themselves when O'Hara and the New York Philharmonic reprise the performance Friday at the black-tie Opening Gala for Oklahoma State University's McKnight Center for the Performing Arts.

"What we will do Friday night in Stillwater is what we've just been doing for four nights here in New York City," O'Hara said in a phone interview. "It's a very nostalgic piece about summertime with your family in the South. Even we're obviously not in Knoxville, Tennessee, there in Oklahoma, there's something about the lying on the ground on quilts and you're hearing your parents and your aunts and uncles talking. ... There are those memories — those really soft, warm memories — for me."

Making its first visit to Oklahoma in more than 30 years, the New York Philharmonic will perform three concerts — two featuring O'Hara — Friday-Oct. 13 to celebrate the opening of the McKnight Center, a world-class epicenter for the arts at OSU.

Named for OSU alumni Ross and Billie McKnight, the center features a 1,098-seat performance space, an intimate 217-seat recital hall and an outdoor plaza with a 32-foot LED wall screen. The McKnights donated $25 million to create a program endowment for the center in 2016, the same year ground was broken on the 65,000-square foot building.

“It’s a state-of-the-art facility, and it has all the technology that you could want," OSU President Burns Hargis told The Oklahoman. "We were able to, thanks to Ross McKnight, raise a $50 million endowment for programming."

Diverse lineup

The center's inaugural performing arts season includes touring productions of the musicals “An American in Paris” and “The Buddy Holly Story"; a Halloween presentation of the silent film "Phantom of the Opera" with live organ; and concerts by the Preservation Jazz Hall Band, the Beatles tribute 1964 and internationally renowned opera singer and 1999 OSU graduate Sarah Coburn.

"What a gift. ... To think that the New York Philharmonic is going to be there in partnership, I can't imagine what that would have been like as a music major. I was already drawn to OSU, but what a draw for a music student to know that they could have that kind of collaboration," said Coburn, who will perform April 4 at the McKnight Center.

Along with showcasing touring artists from around the globe, OSU's music school will use the venue for classes and performances.

"That should make people line up to get into the music program at OSU," said Coburn. "These opportunities are so enriching, and the building itself, to have that kind of space for performing, it's really inspiring. I think it will just encourage that much higher level of musicianship and scholarship."

Along with O'Hara and the New York Philharmonic, performers booked for multi-date engagements include famed violinist Joshua Bell and the London-based chamber orchestra Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, celebrated pianist Andre Watts and acclaimed pianist Jonathan Biss, whose seven-concert series showcasing all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas is already sold out.

"It's our inaugural season ... and we wanted it to be something really special and unique, but also something that's going to be representative of the world-class art that we're going to keep bringing to the center for decades to come," said Jessica Novak, the McKnight Center's director of marketing.

Big impact

The McKnight Center is expected to be a regional arts hub, Hargis said.

"For some things, we'll be able to attract people from Oklahoma City and Tulsa," Hargis said. "It will elevate, I think, not just OSU but Stillwater and even the whole region."

The economic and educational impact of the center should be wide-reaching, Novak said.

"The center is estimated to have an economic impact of about $11 million for the city of Stillwater," she said. "Of course, that's people coming in and eating at restaurants, staying in hotel rooms, shopping in town, everything you do when you plan one of these exciting trips to our shows."

Beyond the three opening weekend concerts, she said the New York Philharmonic is spending the better part of a week in residency in Stillwater. The musicians will offer multiple master classes for OSU students, then cap their Oklahoma visit Oct. 14 when they perform for free for first- and second-graders from Stillwater Public Schools.

"Coming to Oklahoma State University ... they want to bring the great classical works and introduce them to those who haven't been classical music fans in the past," O'Hara said. "I think it's a statewide real enhancement, honestly, with the kind of artists they're going to have there. What they're doing now at OSU, I think it's pretty monumental."


McKnight Center opening weekend

Tickets and information:

Where: McKnight Center for the Performing Arts at Oklahoma State University, 705 W. University Ave, Stillwater.

•Opening Gala with New York Philharmonic and Kelli O'Hara: 6 p.m. Friday.

•New York Philharmonic: A Fantastique Introduction: 7:30 p.m. Saturday (sold out).

•New York Philharmonic with Kelli O'Hara: 2 p.m. Oct. 13 (sold out).

Kristin Chenoweth Earns Grammy Award for Philanthropy

Kristin Chenoweth's work to bolster and support the arts in her hometown of Broken Arrow earned her recognition from the Grammy Awards on Tuesday. 

Chenoweth was presented with a Grammys on the Hill Philanthropist Award at a a Washington, D.C., ceremony that also recognized gospel singer Yolanda Adams, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., for their advocacy for various issues that benefit and support the arts and arts creators. 

Chenoweth's "leadership in the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center has made it the focus of a revitalized arts district," according to a statement on the Grammy Awards website.

Chenoweth's annual Broadway Boot Camp, which she conducts each summer to help young performers understand how to audition and pursue careers in theater, was also singled out for praise. 

Adams was presented the Recording Academy's Creators Leadership Award in thanks for her advocacy on behalf of artists in tandem with her philanthropic giving. 

Grassley and Jeffries were recognized for their efforts in passing the Music Modernization Act into law.

The act will create a new and transparent collection entity to ensure songwriters always get paid for mechanical licenses when digital services use their work, close the "pre-1972 loophole" so that digital services will pay legacy artists and give copyright protection to producers and engineers for the first time in history, among other rights.