The Paseo district of Oklahoma City has become a hub of arts and culture in Oklahoma City. Photo by K.T. KING, The Oklahoman
It was a weekday in 1976 when Joy Reed met her future husband, John Belt, for a quick lunch in what was then a boarded-up and forgotten part of northwest Oklahoma City.
Meeting at Hiram's, a quaint sandwich shop nestled between his job downtown and her job near the Capitol, was a regular activity for the couple.
When John Belt learned their special lunch spot was closing, he purchased the property and many others nearby.
An arts district was born.
What they're saying
arts and culture is all about
who we are as people,
our creative endeavors and there's
a passion in that, there's a sense
of pride in that. That has
a contagious effect."
— Joel Gavin,
The late John Belt devoted the majority of his life to creating the Paseo — the oldest arts district in Oklahoma City. Today, the colorful neighborhood is home to 17 art galleries and more than 60 artists. Intermingled with the galleries are restaurants and shops, all local to the area.
“He thought that you couldn't have a very good city with neighborhoods that were run down and destroyed and problematic,” Joy Belt said.
“His goal was to always have properties where artists could live, work and sell their work; and to have related activities like restaurants and things like that, that would support that kind of community.”
John Belt's work in the Paseo inspired a growing arts community across Oklahoma City.
In 1997, a grass-roots organization was formed to revitalize a neighborhood in a state of disrepair similar to the condition of the Paseo nearly 30 years prior.
‘Something out of nothing'
Artists flocked to the area, and the Plaza District, west of the Paseo, came to life, said Kristen Vails, executive director of the Plaza District Association.
“That's just kind of the nature of artists,” Vails said. “They're kind of making something out of nothing, so it works well for revitalization efforts.”
The newer arts district has an urban feel, as opposed to the historical feel of the Paseo. The area has 32 businesses including art galleries, tattoo parlors, vintage shops, bars and restaurants.
After the death of John Belt earlier this year, his wife, president of the Paseo Arts Association, now oversees the neighborhood properties.
Joy Reed Belt hopes to keep art thriving in the area and spreading around the city.
“We're a very young state, one of the youngest states in the United States so art did not come to us as quickly, but now it truly is,” Joy Belt said. “We can be a destination for art.”