We had the good fortune of connecting with Ashley Forrest and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ashley, we’d love to hear what makes you happy.
Creating space makes me happy. Space for expression & for talented people from all backgrounds, in all mediums to show up as they are. Space to leverage our voices, to dream, to collaborate, to show up authentically. Connecting creatives and seeing collaborations come out of those connections is a thrill. I’m passionate about cultivating our local art scene, about being a gallery that is not traditional to our area, about taking risks, and allowing the art we show to be subversive. Seeing my friends succeed without compromising makes me happy. Being there for them when they need to be reminded of what badasses they are makes me happy. Honestly, because I can’t think of a better way to spend this one odd and precious life.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
We opened Forma in 2020, a week after the election, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Forma is a unique concept, luxury independent eyewear & local contemporary art. I think one of our biggest fears is that we would appear tone deaf. We knew our community was suffering in more than one way and we realized that it was not an ideal climate to open a high end retail concept. I had a number of doubts about how we would even survive the first year. I knew if anyone was going to give a sh*t about Forma we had to pour ourselves into the community. We had to truly create space that creatives felt a part of. I was tasked with heading up the art side of the business and in the beginning I stayed in my lane and looked at it as my chance to build a different kind of art gallery in our city. I organized an insane amount of events and art shows, while my fiancée, Dr. Carter Johnston, headed the optical side. He chose international independent designers, many that aren’t available anywhere else in the Midwest. Some of those brands are small enough that we’ve been able to develop relationships directly with their founders and designers. We hired an amazing optician, Jered Sullivan, who proved to be so much more than that. He is always eager to make everything on both sides of the business the absolute best they can be. We started to see real growth. The art shows and events got bigger and more extravagant. We started hiring djs, musicians, bartenders, ballet dancers, pianists, drag queens, performers, all local. We allowed local artists to take over the space and supported their visions. When we shot ads we used local photographers, and shot local artists in our eyewear in front of their art. We bought ads in local magazines. We invested time and resources, again and again, in our community. That was our marketing budget. We didn’t run constant social media ads or pay for Google placement, billboards, tv, or radio. We put those dollars into building a grass roots network of supporters in our city. People we’ve connected with, people who’s stories we’re invested in, people who have introduced and reccomended us, and are now important parts of our lives. We’re only 16 months in and I don’t know where we’ll end up, but I do know that our symbiotic relationship with OKCs creative community has been the most important thing we’ve invested in. Those connections have brought us some amazing artists and some next level opportunities. Lately, some of those opportunities have looked like designing a pair of frames for Sir Elton John, collaborating with Italian designers on an international artist incubator, and building immersive art experiences in our space. We may not have seen the most impressive monetary return thus far, but everything is definitely going better than I could have ever imagined. I truly feel like we’re just getting started.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’ve lived in OKC the majority of my life and it has been such a joy to watch it grow. We have had a tremendous influx of art and culture in the last 20 years. We are now home to so many amazing concepts and I love showing off our little city to visitors.
First, Forma is a destination in itself. I’m hoping my friends are coming while we’re having an event. Either way, we always have great art on the walls and we’re in a great arts district downtown. The Oklahoma Contemporary moved to its new location in 2020. It’s a block North from Forma and it’s is a Mecca for artists near and far. One block south of us is Factory Obscura. It is a division of Meow Wolf and so many local artists collaborated to build an immersive experience that is out of this world. A few blocks west of us is the OG of the Oklahoma arts scene, the OKCMOA. They have a massive Chihuly exhibit and are constantly rotating world class exhibitions.
We also have so many cute arts districts. The Plaza and the Paseo are two of my favorites. The Plaza walls are a collection of vibrant, rotating street murals. They are curated by Kris Kanaly and repainted annually. Each year they bring in more and more talent and the project grows. Do it for the gram, but don’t forget to tag the artists. If you’re in the Paseo you’ll definitely want to check out Lil’ Ds gallery. She’s a force.
I love to eat. Anyone who comes to visit is definitely coming to Patrono with me. Jonathan Krell is a master at all he does but his intimate, Italian concept is my favorite spot in the city. Frida is a beautiful Soutwestern concept located in the Paseo. The seafood tamales are delicious. Oso is a great stop for margaritas and tacos. Ma Der is a new Laotian concept in the Plaza arts district. Everything is delicious but I recommend the mushroom stew and beef skewers. Lua is a cute Mediterranean concept across the street from Ma Der. They have delicious small plates and affordable wine pours. We also have a booming Asian district. Hot Pot Heroes and Szechuan story are new favorites, while Golden Phoenix and Grand House are classics.
Id recommend staying at 21c, Bradford House, or the Ellison. 21c has a wonderful art gallery that rotates often and they recently renovated Mary Eddys, their restaurant. The entire space is delightful. Bradford House is a beautiful boutique, designed and owned by Sarah Kate. The city is flourishing. Other mentionable spots for me would include Scissortail Park, the River Trails, and the Wheeler District. There’s plenty to do in OKC!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Carter, my partner in love and life, deserves all the credit. He dreamed this space to life. I oversee most of the creative direction but none of it would exist without his vision, his support, or his trust. He’s the real MVP.
Facebook: Forma, Optics & Art
Iasiah Gabriel Pickens III