The Norman Transcript

December 2, 2012

Larry Walker’s public art wish list keeps growing

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Art, in a way, is like hair styles. Lengths, colors, shapes and textures are always changing. A fad today may be passé next month.

Larry Walker hasn’t stopped appreciating art or hair styles since he came to Norman as a drama major in the 1960s. He wanted to be able to feed himself, so he got a license and began cutting hair on Campus Corner the day after Christmas in 1969. He and Joe Walden may be the longest-tenured, still actively working businessmen on the corner.

Walker beams with pride at the visual and performing arts available here but often wonders aloud why his neighbors are not as excited. They’ll go to New York City for a show but not across town. They’ll buy art in Santa Fe, made by Oklahomans, but won’t visit the artists’ Norman studio.

“I wish people just understood the impact of the arts already in the community. People don’t grasp the impact,” said Walker, chair of the city’s public arts board. “I would like to see a greater awareness of the arts.”

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It’ll be hard to overlook the arts if the board goes through with the idea of artwork on the Main Street Interstate 35 bridge, something along the lines of the 197-foot SkyDance bridge sculpture on I-35 near Robinson Avenue in Oklahoma City.

“We’ve looked at it. For it to be large enough to be seen along I-35, you’re looking at a massive piece,” Walker said. “The scale and scope of the piece must be large.”

The price tag will be in the massive neighborhood, too, by our public art standards. He estimates it will take at least $250,000. A companion piece on the Lindsey Street bridge, perhaps with an OU theme, will be needed, too.

By comparison, the Indian Grasses sculpture commissioned by the public arts board costs $60,000 and is three stories tall.

“That’s at least the size and scale we would need on Main Street,” he said. “Our biggest issue is whether we can raise that kind of money and not jeopardize the overall arts community in the fundraising.”

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Walker has chaired the public arts board since its city council creation in 2007. Norman is one of four cities to have such a board. He is proud of the handful of pieces the board has commissioned to date.

Over the next few months, three more $1,500 duck sculptures will be installed in city parks similar to the ones in Lions, Andrews and Colonial Estates parks. Twenty-six of the city’s 67 parks are designated as children’s parks.

By comparison, Edmond’s public arts board has championed 134 art pieces over the last 10 years. The city gets a dolar-for-dollar match with businesses and neighborhoods that support a piece of art.

Some cities, not including Norman, have ordinances requiring public building projects to include 1 percent of the budget be spent on art. A move in that direction tanked when the economy deteriorated about five years ago.

“At some point in the future, that’s definitely something we would like to see happen,” Walker said.

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Walker said Norman has the talent and resources to be more active in art. In the 37 years of the governor’s arts awards, 49 honors have gone to Norman residents, businesses and organizations.

Many of those have OU connections. Earlier this month graduate students installed art in Lions Park. With the permission of OU, the arts board has documented and photographed all of the public art within the city. An upcoming strategic planning session will re-evaluate an arts master plan for the city.

“Those of us who have been involved in the arts have a wish list, and every few years, we cross something off of it. Either we finish it or we say there’s no way in hell that we can do that.”


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