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.
Original Board of Directors
· Checorski, Bob
· Eek, Nat
· Kienlan, Dottie
· Dramer, Gary
· Droescher, George
· Binkley, Ellen
· Olkinetzky, Sam
· Parman, Frank
· Scanlan, LaVonne
· Thurston, Margaret
· Orth, Evelyn
· Vogt, Pat Wetherill
· Weinheime, Kathryn
· Waldhauer, Betty
· Henderson, Dortha
One of the first major projects of the new Council was to explore ways to acquire and restore the Sooner Theatre as a community performing arts center. Subsequently, a new non-profit organization was formed for the project.
In 1978, the first paid Director (part-time) was secured using CETA funds (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) and the office was in shared space at the Cleveland County Historical Society’s Museum. Next, the office was in shared space at the Sooner Theatre. Since 1978, the Norman Arts and Humanities Council, now known as Norman Arts Council, has had twelve Directors:
· Pat Cacy
· Ellen Binkley
· Rachael Jacquemain
· Jennifer Kidney
· Phoebe Morales
· Jill Johnson
· Linda Tiller
· Christina Neuerendorf
· Stephanie Royse
· Marta Burcham
· Rick Fry
· Erinn Gavaghan (2010 – Current)
After leaving the Sooner Theatre, the NAC office has been maintained at:
· 215 East Main St.
· Brookhaven Village
· Two locations on Campus Corner
· Sarkeys Incubator Annex
· 220 East Main St.
· 210 East Main St.
· MAINSITE Contemporary Art: Home of the Norman Arts Council, 122 East Main Street, Walker Arts District (2011 – Current)
The NAC can look with pride at its accomplishments through the years. Although the philosophies of the Council have undergone changes, the core mission has never wavered. There have been creative and innovative programs and activities inaugurated. A partial list of these includes:
· Photography exhibitions/competitions which were held annually or biennially
· Summer in the Park (later named Art in the Park) – series of performances and art shows in Andrews Park over several years
· Sponsoring several performances of the Southwest Jazz ensemble – these led to the coalition with Cimarron Opera Company (then known as Church Circuit Opera Company) which became the basis for the formation of Jazz in June
· Picture Lady – a program of trained docents visiting first grade classrooms with a series of prints depicting art masterworks
· Support and participate in MayFair, Medieval Fair, Campus Corner Arts Festivals, and Art in the Park
· Poetry readings, writing workshops, artist-in-residence programs with NPS
· Assorted performances of recognized artists, such as The American Spirit Dance Company, Phillip Glass in Concert, Oklahoma City Symphony, Norman Music Festival, etc.
· Presentation of annual awards to individuals, business and other non-profits for outstanding service to the arts in Norman.
· Using funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, local groups received additional grants and the NAC produced CityArts Week, a comprehensive ten day event featuring a concentration of arts and humanities events. This event continued for eleven years.
· Two viewings of the Art Train traveling exhibit
· Funded “Welcome to Norman” signage and partially funded several pieces of public art in Norman.
· Winterfest, Art Walks, and 2nd Friday
Historically, funding for the NAC has come from the Oklahoma Arts Council, National Endowment for the Arts, individual annual contributions, corporate sponsors, and fund raising events, and the Norman Transient Guest Room Tax. It is interesting to note that in 1981 (the first year of the Hotel Tax), the entire budget was $30,848 (including the Directors salary of $12,500.)
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 that grow as the community expands through it 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 150 bands from across the country each year. Event 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 places in Norman. The PAB unveiled its first completed project in September of 2010, the stunning metal work, Indian Grassby 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 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 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 concert in multiple venues throughout the Art Walk.
In 2011, the NAC moved its headquarters to MAINSITE Contemporary Art Gallery on Main Street 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, 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 dozens of 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, Itlay; 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.
Also in 2016, the City of Norman contracted with the Norman Arts Council to administer the 1% for Art for designated Norman Forward projects. To date we have complete two projects: Splashat the Westwood Aquatic Center ($100,000 budget) and Prairie Windat the new East Branch Library ($32,000 budget). We are currently in process of a third, monumental work for the Central Branch Library, a $230,000 budget project.
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 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.