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Artistic Vision

SECOND PLACE:This Oklahoma City optical shop and art gallery purveys fine art for clients’ walls as well as their faces, while providing a vibrant shared space for the community’s like-minded creatives.

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FORMA, OPTICS & ART / OKLAHOMA CITY, OK

OWNER: Carter Johnston, OD, and Ben Blasi, ABOC | URL: formaopticsandart.com | YEAR FOUNDED: 2020 |AREA: 1,739 sq. ft. | EMPLOYEES: 2 full-time, 1 part-time | FACEBOOK: facebook.com/Forma-Optics-and-Art-103194618139243 | INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/formaopticsart | TOP BRANDS: Portrait Eyewear, Sabine Be, Lindberg, Kirk & Kirk, FEB31st | BUILD OUT COST: $130,000 | ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Fitzsimmons Architects OKC, OK; Interior Design Ashley Forrest


EVERY SO OFTEN someone comes along and reinvents the idea of what an eyewear business can be, creating an environment that is so clearly the result of a personal vision that labels like “optical” or “boutique” don’t seem to do it justice. Combining owner Dr. Carter Johnston’s twin passions — unique eyewear and contemporary art — Forma, Optics & Art is such a location. Opened in downtown Oklahoma City in late 2020 it is both an optical and an art gallery, but it also serves as a hub for the city’s creative community. As Forma’s Art Director Ashley Forrest puts it, “Not only do we provide art for your face but also for your walls.”

Johnston’s roots in local eyecare run deep; a second-generation eye doctor, he got his start over two decades ago at the business his father established in the early 1970s, Johnston Eye Associates. He still practices at the location in the city’s northwest, 15 miles or so from Forma. His focus on independent luxury eyewear dates to the founding of Physicians Optical, which also continues to operate as Forma’s “sister location;” the Forma team regularly send edging jobs there to lessen wait time for customers.

Forma is located on the ground floor of OKC’s historic Pontiac Building — the terrazzo floors still bear an oil stain from a time when the site served as an auto showroom. The space was completely renovated, according to Forrest, to achieve “a clean, modern feel to act as a canvas for all Forma’s eccentricities.” Natural light and plants fill the space, and all millwork is custom BauBuche. Display cases and tables are on wheels, allowing the space to be easily repurposed for art shows and events. In a typically unique touch, the front window display breaks down and doubles as benches for seating.

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Our 2nd Place ‘America’s Finest’ Winner Created a Space Where Oklahoma City’s Finest Art Sits Alongside the World’s Coolest EyewearOur 2nd Place ‘America’s Finest’ Winner Created a Space Where Oklahoma City’s Finest Art Sits Alongside the World’s Coolest Eyewear
Our 2nd Place ‘America’s Finest’ Winner Created a Space Where Oklahoma City’s Finest Art Sits Alongside the World’s Coolest EyewearOur 2nd Place ‘America’s Finest’ Winner Created a Space Where Oklahoma City’s Finest Art Sits Alongside the World’s Coolest Eyewear

The gallery at Forma rotates art shows regularly while also doubling as an event space. It has shown over 200 local artists since its opening and currently offers work from over 60. Recently, Forma has been creating immersive art experiences suspended from the ceilings. According to Johnston, for the latest show, entitled “Ego Death,” the optical was transformed into an open gallery type space with the ceiling decorated in large clouds hanging throughout, with a large disco ball encased in a golden bird cage, from which doves escaped.

Our 2nd Place ‘America’s Finest’ Winner Created a Space Where Oklahoma City’s Finest Art Sits Alongside the World’s Coolest Eyewear

Owners

Fostering a community around its art space has allowed Forma to largely eschew marketing in the usual sense. “Our events bring in large crowds, spreading awareness about our space,” says Forrest. “Our ads are shot by local photographers and our models are local artists. We buy ads in local magazines. We invest time and resources in our community. This is our marketing budget.” Forma doesn’t run constant social media ads or pay for Google placement, billboards, TV or radio.

Our 2nd Place ‘America’s Finest’ Winner Created a Space Where Oklahoma City’s Finest Art Sits Alongside the World’s Coolest Eyewear

Forma, Optics & Art has shown works by over 200 local artists since its opening in late 2020.

That said, social media still has an important role to play: Forma’s presence on Facebook and Instagram is kept edgy and fresh by local artists and influencers. “We have developed close relationships with Sabine Be, Portrait Eyewear and Gissa Bicalho, all over Insta. Our feed is unpredictable. You might catch a video of an art show or a photo of custom frames for Sir Elton John.” (More on that to follow…) “We love seeing our ad campaigns frequently reposted by our designers. In the last few months, we have been heading an American campaign for Portrait Eyewear’s Art Incubator. We have been busy with arranging artist photoshoots and community videos for international use. Our digital presence has taken on a life of its own. We’re thrilled and grateful to have so many collaborators and brand ambassadors.”

All of the independent eyewear lines selected by Forma offer something unique in terms of style, design or material. The team especially appreciates brands that are agreeable to customizing frames to suit a particular client’s style. “We like the fact that we can message the owners of a brand directly and ask a question or give an opinion,” says Johnston. Along with the already mentioned Sabine Be and Portrait, he shouts out FEB31st, Moscot, Lindberg and Ørgreen.

Our 2nd Place ‘America’s Finest’ Winner Created a Space Where Oklahoma City’s Finest Art Sits Alongside the World’s Coolest Eyewear

Opening as the country grappled with an early peak in COVID cases came with special challenges. To continue to accommodate the widest variety of clients, the team at Forma chose to add a mobile showroom to its offerings, providing consultations in clients’ homes or offices. Says Forrest, “This allowed us to meet people where they felt most comfortable while also adhering to CDC guidelines. [Optician Jered Sullivan] is a master at fitting frames and making everyone feel welcome and at home.” Adjustments and small repairs are always free of charge at Forma and walk-ins are welcomed.

This early test was also an opportunity for Forma to show that underpinning its dedication to sharing art is its sense of community. “We knew our community was suffering in more than one way and we realized if anyone was going to care about Forma, we had to pour ourselves into the community.” It’s a philosophy reflected in the business’s policy of exclusively hiring local, from vendors to graphic artists and musicians. Says Forrest, “We offer opportunities to both emerging and established artists. We have not only offered our walls, but also our space. Forma has been home to performance art, musicians, ballet dancers, local art groups, theater troops, even civil rights rallies. We constantly reinvent our space to serve our community.”

Our 2nd Place ‘America’s Finest’ Winner Created a Space Where Oklahoma City’s Finest Art Sits Alongside the World’s Coolest Eyewear

Five Cool Things About Forma, Optics & Art

1. PRICE POINT. During Forma’s recent immersive art installation “Ego Death,” every price included the number 777.

2. HISTORY UNDERFOOT. Forma’s terrazzo floors are over a century old.

3. ANIMAL COLLECTIVE. The shop has had a few mascots since opening, including a pet tarantula, Ashley’s Dachshund Alice and Jered’s Dachshund Bernard. An albino anaconda even made an appearance at a birthday party.

4. ALT-ROCK ICON Forma hosted an acoustic and art show for Tyson Meade. The Chainsaw Kittens front-man performed, created a series of 11 paintings (all sold), and auctioned off some rare memorabilia.

5. EYE CATCHING. Forma has the largest piece artist Matt Goad has ever created, an 8’x8’ custom commission titled “Tandem Time Machine.”

Fine Story

Forma was recently asked to create a custom pair of frames for rock legend Sir Elton John to present to him during his farewell tour stop in Oklahoma City. Explains Johnston: “This was a bit last-minute and had to come together over essentially two-and-a-half weeks. We thought the funky colors and shapes of Sabine Be would be perfect but wanted to put together something different and worthy of someone who literally has thousands of pairs of eyewear. We actually texted Sabine Wagner of Sabine Be at about midnight her time in France. After a quick explanation of the situation, she was excited to help! We designed a custom Sabine Be Val de Loire sunglass in gold with custom blue lenses with cloud print — with a diamond on the temple!”

PHOTO GALLERY (22 IMAGES)

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

  • It’s obvious Forma is an OKC destination experience where optical meets art meets community. I wish the online shop offered a seamless Rx shopping experience but the stylish on-brand gallery is a step in the right direction. Overall, Forma’s grass roots marketing strategy coupled with artists and performers eager to share the “Forma Fam” vibe is a recipe for continued success. — Jenn Denham, Director of Growth Marketing, Optify, Salt Lake City, UT
  • This practice most assuredly will take your breath away and open your eyes to how optical fashion and eyecare can create an amazing journey. Incorporating a truly top-in-class visual experience with a masterfully curated contemporary art collection, this space provides a total blast to the eyes and home for interactive eyecare and styling. — David Duralde, Chief Creative Officer, OGI Eyewear, Minneapolis, MN
  • Chic, trendy, eclectic and a bit busy. It is said that to do one thing well is hard, two things extremely hard and three are impossible. There is so much talent shown in this space that it is a real winner. — Jan Ennis, President/CEO, Ennco Display Systems, Redmond, WA

After years covering some of the farther flung corners of the world of business journalism, Heath has more recently focused on covering the efforts of independent eyecare professionals to negotiate a fast-changing industry landscape. Contact him at [email protected]

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