NORMAN — For three days in April, the 200 block of W Main Street will be transformed into a vibrant downtown destination, one that features landscaping, bike lanes, pop-up retail shops, outdoor cafes and art studios.
Rather than using a one-dimensional design on a piece of paper, the Better Block project will rely on a live demonstration to show residents how an ordinary — even dreary — streetscape can be turned into something extraordinary, said Project Manager Tim Stark.
Better Block emerges
The Better Block transformation will be April 11-13, kicking off a monthlong StArt Norman initiative that will use an abandoned lumber yard on the northeast corner of Main and Webster Avenue as its home base, featuring an exhibition of “empty-inspired” art. The art exhibit, which is designed to show how empty spaces can be reimagined, will run through May 10.
Stark said the three-day Better Block portion of the initiative will begin at 6 p.m. April 11 to coincide with Norman’s monthly downtown art walk.
Residents can stroll or bike along the block, shop at pop-up retail stores, eat at temporary sidewalk cafes, mingle at a game site and listen to live music, Stark said.
The Norman Arts Council is sponsoring both the Better Block project and the StArt Norman campaign.
“The goal is to present Norman residents and visitors with a new vision of the area as a bustling marketplace and creative social hub,” said Erinn Gavaghan, executive director for the city’s arts council.
A good StArt
“StArt was born out of the idea that the arts can affect positive and lasting change in a community. Combining the concepts of ‘placemaking’ and a site-specific art exhibition, StArt will transform a Norman city block into a destination full of creativity and possibility,” Gavaghan said.
For the Better Block portion of the project, Stark said more than 30 volunteers will revitalize the 200 block of W Main through temporary, inexpensive, high-impact alterations to pedestrian and public infrastructure and the additions of art, culture, pop-up businesses and street life.
This is the third “Better Block” project in central Oklahoma and the first for Norman. In May 2012, Better Block OKC attracted thousands of visitors to NW 7 and Hudson in the Midtown neighborhood, followed by a one-day makeover in May 2013 of the historic Farmers Market District in downtown Oklahoma City.
Better Block projects also have been accomplished in cities throughout the United States, many times resulting in permanent changes, Stark said.
For example, within a year of a Better Block project in Baton Rouge, La., temporary changes tested through the activity were turned into permanent development projects, according to the Better Block website, which details projects from across the country.
The centerpiece of Norman’s reimagined Main Street block will be “Threshhold: the promised land,” a monthlong art exhibition curated by heather ahtone and Laura Reese of Norman. The exhibit will feature eight site-specific installations by C. Maxx Stevens of Boulder, Colo., and 13 Oklahoma artists, as well as a film room and a collaborative mural.
According to a statement from the curators, the exhibition will explore the space as a site for transformation.
Threshold implies an opening for change, a boundary yet to be crossed, and the maximum or minimum point of change, while the phrase “promised land” brings to mind hope and new beginnings, as well as reflection on local history, ahtone and Reese said in their statement.
A building on the old lumber yard site has been renamed “Space” for the exhibition, which also will feature live music, poetry, performance art, theatrical dance, art workshops and lectures throughout the month.
“Threshold: the promised land” is free and will be open to the public from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and by appointment.
The project is being funded through money from Norman’s hotel/motel tax and by private contributions from the Fowler Holding Co.
The project “will create a conversation and inspire us to really imagine what we want our town to be and where we put our priorities,” said Jonathan Fowler, vice president of operations for the holding company. “It also will bring a new generation to the table working hand in hand with people that have dedicated their lives to community efforts.”
For more information about StArt Norman, call 360-1162 or go to www.startnorman.com.
For more information about Better Block, go to www.betterblock.org.