Tapping underdeveloped resource potential has helped fuel the second wind to Oklahoma City's continued renaissance. But even as local artists and a maturing arts scene have added character, a recent study suggests the number and quality of those artists are another plentiful but underdeveloped resource that could benefit from more networking and marketing.
The Cultural Development Corporation of Oklahoma, a nonprofit, commissioned a study by Minnesota-based Creative Community Builders to help develop a strategy to support Oklahoma City's artists. The findings were presented to the city Arts Commission at its meeting last week.
The study found Oklahoma City has an advantage it can exploit in a burgeoning creative class, more than a quarter of which is composed of self-employed workers. The challenge is to capitalize by finding a way to help them network with each other and market their skills and products.
“We found a real diversity of artists, and self-employed artists at a much higher rate than the rest of the country,” said Julia Kirt, the development corporation's president and director of the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition. “But we're pretty fragmented and not coordinated between art forms.”
Oklahoma City has made increasing investments in money and time to better the local arts community as part of efforts to improve quality of life. The development corporation and city have partnered to develop a cultural plan for the city, and an Oklahoma City ordinance requires one percent of construction budgets to be spent on public art.
MAPS projects and other public and private investment efforts have led to a number of arts districts, museums, exhibitions and programs in the metro.
Some of the most notable successes like the Plaza and Paseo districts are local examples that show what investment in the arts can do for economic development, said Robbie Kienzle, the city's arts and cultural affairs liaison.
“There are hundreds examples in the nation of how artists can help activate neighborhoods and districts,” Kienzle said.
The study suggests continued development of Oklahoma City's artistic potential could provide additional economic benefits.
The city's role is to make sure people developing neighborhoods and business districts are aware of the added value that investment in arts can bring, Kienzle said.
The private sector's challenge is to find more ways to bring artists together, whether it's in workshops or festivals or galleries.
“We're already beginning some regular networking gatherings,” Kirt said.
“This is important. It's not like everybody needs to go to every gathering, but there's something to being face-to-face with other artists, making connections and helping each other out.”
Ultimately the challenge is harnessing the potential for added community value within as many local artists as possible.
“Some may not be full-time artists. They may be employed in other ways. But they're adding value to their communities,” Kirt said.