The Norman Arts Council (NAC) was founded in 1976 to enrich the Norman community by stimulating artistic, cultural, and economic growth through the support and promotion of the arts. At its inception, the NAC became the face and voice of arts advocacy in Norman. Since then, the NAC has continued to uphold its mission through a variety of programs and initiatives. Early on, the Arts and Humanities Roundtable, was formed. This network of 501 (c) 3 arts and cultural organizations in Norman allows for dialogue and collaboration between all involved for the purpose of continuing our community’s growth as an arts destination.
In 1981, the NAC, along with the Chamber of Commerce and other civic leaders, campaigned for the successful passage of the Norman Transient Guest Room Tax. Norman, to date, is the only city in Oklahoma that has a guest room tax with portions of the tax going to convention/tourism, the parks department, and the arts. Each year, the NAC uses the arts portion to sponsor festivals, programs, workshops, and arts education activities through its grants program. The NAC granted $12,125 to arts organization that first year and the funds have grown consistently since then. In FY18, the NAC is granting over $240,000 for a cumulative total of over $3,300,000 in grants given since the hotel tax was passed.
Among the NAC’s historic contributions is the co-founding and continued support of the popular Jazz in June, which has attracted nationally known acts such as Ellis Marsalis and T.S. Monk III. The NAC also provides support for such well-attended festivals as Mayfair, the Medieval Fair, Norman Music Festival and the Downtown Norman Fall Festival – all dynamic annual events that have helped Norman earn a reputation as the City of Festivals.
In 2008, the NAC created the Norman Music Festival, a multi-genre music festival that has grown to a three-day event featuring over 300 bands from across the country each year. Every attendance has grown by the tens of thousands, and, in 2012, the NMF became its own 501C3 and the Norman Music Alliance was formed.
In 2009, the NAC and the City of Norman created the Norman Public Arts Board, with the mission to create exciting, appealing, and harmonious public spaces by integrating art into the public place in Norman. The PAB unveiled its first project in September of 2010, the stunning metal work, Indian Grass by Taos, New Mexico artists Juan and Patricia Navarrete. This phenomenal work of public art is located in the East Main Street roundabout. Since then, the PAB has continued to grow and currently oversees the care of a public art collection of over 130 works.
Also in 2009, the NAC began the 2nd Friday Art Walk. This is a monthly, city-wide celebration of art and is a collaboration between artists, arts organizations, and businesses. Every 2nd Friday is different and regular participants include The University of Oklahoma Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts, the Firehouse Art Center, MAINSITE Contemporary Art, The Depot, Cimarron Opera, Jazz in June, Visit Norman, Sooner Theatre, the Medieval Fair, the Pioneer Library System, and many local restaurants, shops, and small businesses hosting artists and performances throughout the downtown area. Since its inception, 2nd Friday has grown and now includes a Food Truck park and monthly line-up of live music concerts in multiple venues throughout downtown.
In 2011, the NAC moved its headquarters to MAINSITE Contemporary Art Gallery on Main St. and took over the programming of the gallery creating a community arts destination and the hub of the Arts District. Over the years, the NAC has curated exhibits featuring local, regional, national, and international artists in the space as well as opening it doors to poetry readings, live music of all genres, performances, film screenings, and various other arts and arts educational offerings.
In 2013, Norman again made its support of the arts and Norman Arts Council clear with a vote to increase the hotel/motel tax and subsequently making more funds available to the many art events and organizations Norman Arts Council supports.
In 2015, the NAC launched Cultural Connections, an internationally recognized series that promotes the exchange of ideas, art, and culture and opens world-wide dialogue between the City of Norman and our Sister Cities around the world: Arezzo, Italy; Clermont-Ferrand, France; Colima, Mexico; and Seika, Japan.
In 2016, the NAC and the City of Norman created The Walker Arts District in Downtown Norman in memory of long-time NAC Board member and arts advocate, Larry Walker.
Over the years, the NAC has had 12 executive directors. Since 2010, Erinn Gavaghan has served in that roll. Erinn is an art historian and has worked in nonprofit arts administration for 14 years. Prior to coming to Norman and the NAC, she worked for the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis and the Oklahoma City Ballet. She is an active volunteer in the arts and the community serving on the board of Cultural Development Corporation of Central Oklahoma, the Norman Public Arts Board, the Norman Downtowners Association Board, the Mayor’s Roundtable, the Norman Historic District Commission, and is the Advocacy Captain for the State of Oklahoma with Americans for the Arts. Erinn received her MA in Art History from Webster University in St. Louis and is a current PhD student in Art History at the University of Oklahoma. Her current interests, research, and projects revolve around the arts’ role in economic development and quality of life in communities and the importance of the arts in the cultural identity of civilizations.