“I don’t know that any one of us could be doing this ourselves,” Sarah Reid said.
As a music scene mainstay, kitchen worker, and part-time venue booker, Reid knows as well as anyone about the behind-the-scenes hustle that goes into assuring that musicians have a stage and a community in Norman, and it’s only been getting tougher in recent years.
With the town continuing to make headlines with increasingly contentious politics and uproar aimed primarily at the kind of young, struggling, often progressive residents that tend to make up much of the music scene, it’s becoming harder to find a safe or welcoming creative refuge.
For the past two decades in Norman, that place has been the Opolis.
But as the times and the town have changed, owners Andy and Marian Nunez, formerly of The Starlight Mints, made the difficult decision to shutter the “micro venue” last summer, and just as quickly, plans began forming among Norman performers to secure a possible future for the space.
“A co-op really just seemed fitting for the large scope of what Opolis has to offer the community and music scene,” Reid said. “Plus ‘Co-Opolis’ just rolled off the tongue.”
As the worker-owned idea began taking shape and appearing more like a viable prospect, Reid approached the Nunezes with the pitch.
The result wasn’t just approval, but help.
“I followed up with them after giving it some serious thought and we sat down and talked about it in the beginning of the summer,” she said. “From there it was a combination of them referring folks who’d worked or played there over the years and me reaching out to my own network of people I knew from the community who could help. The group as we exist now, at six members, is made up of most of the folks who have been meeting and planning since the beginning of June. We’re committed to seeing this through.”
That commitment is going to be key moving forward. The group is still pushing to secure the capital needed by the end of this month, and that means everything from garage sales to crowdfunding to investor drives.
But as a community-minded music venue first and foremost, it means putting on some shows.
“We have a bunch of cool shows booked every Thursday through Saturday through the end of January, and more stacked up beyond that,” Reid said. “We have ‘til the end of January to fundraise our down payment and close the sale, so we’re really pushing our big fundraising event for Second Friday Art Walk on Jan. 13. Swim Fan and Dinosaur Boyfriend will be performing that night, and we’ll have an auction early in the evening with a bunch of art donated from some fantastic local artists. There will be food and punch and beer from local breweries like 405 [Brewing Co.] and Lazy Circles.”
Even as the final purchase continues coming together, the team is already looking forward, planning how this new iteration of the Opolis will fit into the community, both for the upcoming Norman Music Festival – which Reid says is on their minds – and for the city’s rapidly changing, venomous political landscape.
“Opolis has long been a safe haven for the most targeted and outcast people in a conservative state like Oklahoma,” she said. “I think the Opolis T-shirt says it best: ‘Opolis is for pussies.’ It was first said as a slight, but worn as a badge of honor. If caring for our community and creating a safe space for all makes us pussies, then yeah, we’re pussies. There will always be people who will want to hate on us for that, but we won’t be intimidated or stop working to build the kind of community we want to see grow in Norman.”
Staying true to the same inclusivity and counter-cultural importance that the Opolis has served for twenty years is paramount to this new co-op, but Reid also hopes that the venue’s scope continues to expand and offer the kinds of little-known surprises and new discoveries that fans have always loved.
“Some of my favorite Opolis shows were the ones where there was maybe small attendance but an amazing caliber of music,” she said. “You kind of just find yourself saying, ‘Is this really happening right now?’ Like, ‘Pinch me, am I really in Norman seeing this?’ That really goes to show the labor of love that Andy and Marian put into Opolis to make memories we all get to keep forever, and it’s what we want to continue doing for the next generation.”