Former Warehouse B Co-Owner Revitalizes OKC DIY with New Beloved Bones Shared Space
After months spent searching for the right space for her venue and business, Mekala Littleton finally signed a lease in January. Then she got covid.
“So that kind of put me back, like quite a bit,” Littleton said. “I’m just kind of playing catch up in a lot of ways.”
Beloved Bones, Littleton’s oddities and vintage shop, and The Sanctuary, a creative arts collective and all-ages performance venue, officially opened March 5. Upcoming shows at the venue include Grandpa Vern / Shaka / Primal Brain / D.Sablu on March 28th ($10), Karina / Raymond Owen / Jack / McKenzie / Zay on April 2nd ($10), Disease / Bummer / Family Vacation / WOE / Blurt on April 4th ($12), and most notably, Primitive Man with support from Chat Pile / The Tooth / Caustic / Last Rites on May 11th ($18-$20).
Littleton said Beloved Bones and The Sanctuary are “sharing a space and sharing the same intentionality.”
“The goal is really to bring creative people together,” Littleton said, “to create more opportunities for creatives and local artists.”
In addition to concerts, the venue recently hosted a live recording of Bit Depth‘s 300th podcast episode and will lead taxidermy and butterfly pinning classes. A series of art film screenings is scheduled to begin in April, and in the future, Littleton would like The Sanctuary to offer free music classes.
Furnished with church pews, The Sanctuary is intended to live up to its name.
“I really want it to be a safe and diverse and inclusive space where we can really reach a wide margin of the community and bring together a lot of people into one space who feel like they can be themselves freely, and we can have something that interests them,” Littleton said.
As vocalist and rhythm guitarist for Last Rites and former co-owner of record store/music venue Warehouse B, Littleton said she knew of the need for more DIY music venues in OKC. But she was still surprised by the amount of response she’s already had from the community.
“Every day for the most part, I’m hit up by somebody who’s wanting to book a show or wanting to have some sort of event,” Littleton said. “They want to be a part of The Sanctuary in some kind of way, which is amazing.”
Several already struggling smaller venues and DIY spaces closed during the pandemic, and house shows became scarce, Littleton said. The positive feedback following a February show at The Sanctuary gave Littleton a strong sense of “how much people felt like this space was something special and something that they had been looking for for a long time.”
“I’ve learned that the intentions that you put into a space and the hard work when you come from a genuine place really can pay off,” Littleton said. “That energy really can be felt.”
The hard work that went into converting a vacant building into an inviting venue space took a significant amount of help.
“I’ve also learned that it’s absolutely not something that one person can do by themselves,” Littleton said. “It really does take a community looking out for each other, and I’ve had so many people in the community volunteer their time.”
Along with information about upcoming shows, The Sanctuary’s Instagram feed details some of these community efforts. About a dozen people volunteered to pick up trash and debris from the sandbur-and-sticker-filled lot to make room for the porch. One-hundred eighty-seven people contributed to help Littleton secure a $15,000 loan on the crowdfunded loan site Kiva. A post updating followers on the construction progress acknowledges “I’m really lucky to have all the support that I do through this journey” before cautioning, “But for real—NO BIG DOOKIES IN THIS TOILET. The pipes are real rough on this building & rusted out.”
In addition to the new, small-deposits-only toilet and a thorough cleaning, The Sanctuary was also outfitted with new soundproofing and a PA system. The white walls, which Littleton said gave the space an unwelcome hospital vibe, were painted.
“I feel like creating an atmosphere is like half of what makes people feel good in a space, and it’s half of what makes people want to be a part of something, and so I tried to be really thoughtful in that,” Littleton said. “I tried to warm it up. I installed some vintage chandeliers, and I’m trying to cover the walls with art.”
Because Littleton is running the business by herself, she said the support and help from friends has been a relief.
“There’s so many laws you have to follow and registration that you have to do and the money element is kind of stressful because it’s expensive,” Littleton said. “It’s a lot to manage.”
So far, the stress and the rewards have been extreme.
“I’m seeing both sides,” Littleton said, “both intensities on both sides of the experience.”
The experience of co-owning now-closed Farmers Market venue Warehouse B, which Littleton described as “literally like a little storage unit,” taught her valuable lessons about operating a business.
“At the time we were doing mostly pay-what-you-can, and then we were paying the touring bands 80 percent of door sales,” Littleton said. “And we literally couldn’t pay our rent, because nobody was paying us anything. We were constantly paying bands out of pocket. … It was just not sustainable.”
Littleton hopes putting her venue and arts collective in the same building as Beloved Bones — a business she began in 2015 making bolo ties and other items from animal skulls and skeletal remains and selling them on Etsy and through Dig It and Room 3 Vintage — will make it easier to “keep the lights on” at The Sanctuary.
“The Sanctuary is not just relying on Sanctuary events to pay the bills, essentially,” Littleton said.
Littleton has also learned to be more selective about booking, especially while she’s the sole owner in this project and can’t yet afford to pay anyone else.
“You have to learn how to say no,” Littleton said. “Sometimes we’d have shows every night [at Warehouse B]. I was up there constantly. I’ve got to kind of be more thoughtful about what events I do schedule and when I schedule them.”
The Sanctuary’s February show taught Littleton a few lessons as well. She had “a little bit of an issue with theft,” which “was really a bummer” and made Littleton realize she needs to station someone behind the counter throughout shows. A neighbor’s noise complaint required the PA system to be redirected. But most importantly, Littleton learned her mission for The Sanctuary is possible.
“Ultimately, I learned that we could do that,” Littleton said, referring to the venue’s soft open. “There’s some tweaks we have to make, but it was a really great night, and it was really successful. And I feel like overall, everybody was super respectful and just really excited to be there and really stoked on the space.”
Jeremy Martin writes about music and other stuff in OKC. He's also the less funny half of comedy duo The Martin Duprass and the proud father of two delightful baby turtles (pictured).