The Oklahoma City arts community is mourning the loss of Robbie Kienzle, a city planner widely credited with guiding the city’s ascent as a national public arts mecca.
Kienzle, 61, died Monday after an extended illness. She started her career at City Hall 24 years ago as the public art consultant for the first Metropolitan Area Project. That job turned into an arts coordinator as the city began dedicating 1% of capitol improvement project budgets to public art.
That effort was aided by private funding for public art by Downtown Initiatives and property owners across the city. In a 2021 interview with The Oklahoman, Kienzle recalled when months passed without any interest expressed in doing public art.
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“When I first took over when the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs was created, we would have Arts Commission meetings we had to cancel because we had nothing to approve,” Kienzle said.
Projects guided by Kienzle can be found throughout the city, whether it’s the lobby at Will Rogers World Airport, displays at parks, trails and the Oklahoma City Zoo, murals throughout downtown, sculptures across town and art at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, along the Bricktown Canal and at Paycom Center.
The city’s transformation was recognized by USA Today, whose readers named Oklahoma City as top community for public art after it was included among cities nominated by a panel of USA Today editors and expert advisers who described the city as “a veritable outdoor gallery.”
As of last year, the city owned 215 pieces of public art.
During her tenure, Kienzle also led the creation of the Artist Support Study, the Collection Care Plan, the Community Arts Program Study for arts education, and the AMP UP OKC Art Master Plan.
“If you live here, work in Oklahoma City, or are just visiting, your experience has undoubtedly been enriched because of Robbie’s work,” said Assistant City Manager Aubrey McDermid. “When you think of the things we are proud of and celebrate in Oklahoma City, Robbie’s fingerprints are probably all over them. Robbie’s vision, deep commitment and dedication, eternal optimism, and creative problem-solving tenacity made a myriad of public realm improvements and placemaking initiatives across the city possible. ”
The Oklahoma City Arts Commission is hoping to dedicate one of the last projects guided by Kienzle to her memory. Allison Bailey, chair of the commission, said the city council will be asked to approve adding a dedication to Kienzle with the installation this fall of Taking Flight: Light as a Feather at Scissortail Park.
The 31-foot-high, 14,000-pound sculpture will resemble a feather floating to the ground, consisting of 276 integrated fiber optics with LED lamps evenly spread throughout the sculpture.
Bailey said Kienzle was a resource not just for city artists but for communities across the country.
“We owe so much of our public art to the work that Robbie has done for many years,” Bailey said. “She saw art as an essential part of our quality of life – something that everyone should be able to enjoy.”
Steve Lackmeyer started at The Oklahoman in 1990. He is an award-winning reporter, columnist and author who covers downtown Oklahoma City, urban development and economics for The Oklahoman. Contact him at email@example.com. Please support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a subscription today at subscribe.oklahoman.com.