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Arts sustained downtown Oklahoma City during down times

The Festival of the Arts, a downtown mainstay in good times and bad, kicks off Tuesday in Oklahoma City.
by Steve Lackmeyer Modified: April 22, 2014 at 2:00 pm •  Published: April 21, 2014

Over the past few years the month of April has become a gauge of downtown’s renaissance, and this year is no exception as the Thunder start off another playoff series while the Barons are pursuing their own championship and the RedHawks bring in crowds at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

But athletics are just one side of this story. While the Thunder drew another sold-out crowd at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Oklahoma City Ballet was filling every seat at the Civic Center Music Hall. And no amount of rain will scare away the tens of thousands of people who annually attend the Spring Festival of the Arts, which starts its latest season Tuesday at the Myriad Gardens.

No slight to the sports fans, but you owe a big thank you to the arts folks for keeping the downtown dream alive back when it was a pretty dismal place. The Arts Council of Oklahoma City didn’t just maintain the festival through tough times, but also launched the equally popular Opening Night New Year’s Eve celebrations in 1988 when downtown was at its lowest point.

At the same time, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and the Oklahoma City Ballet struggled to stay financially afloat and still draw crowds to what was then a stagnating Civic Center Music Hall.

The community’s connection to downtown stayed alive during the city’s darkest days, and that was a major key to then Mayor Ron Norick persuading voters to approve MAPS in 1993. The success that program spawned downtown has been told many times – but the arts community hasn’t always figured so prominently into the story.

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by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's Metropolitan...
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