By Dave Boeck
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — So I’m finally turning my sights on someone that I was wanting to interview when she side-tracked me to Clara Dumas, and I am so blessed to have been sidetracked.
Meeting Dumas has been such a blessing. I am stubborn, though, and so I am back to talking with one of my favorite people in Norman: Nancy McClellan.
I’ve known McClellan for about 22 years. Our relationship started with my involvement in the annual Architectour. She was the director of the Firehouse Art Center at the time.
This event was organized as an annual fundraiser for the Firehouse Art Center, as well a way to raise community awareness of Norman’s great architecture. That event, to me, said everything that needs to be said about the strength, vision and ingenuity expressed in McClellan’s life.
McClellan is a truly creative person. She really does not sketch or paint, but what I saw in her then and now is the desire to not just do art but to get others to experience it, knowing that this experience would make our community a better place to live.
Her work as a grant writer and program director for these centers has enriched Norman in so many ways. All community art programs live and die by the ability to raise funding for the programs.
When she started writing proposals for the Firehouse, she found an outlet that helped her support the Norman art community in a way that helped it grow.
The Firehouse Art Center was and is a unique place for local citizens to learn painting, pottery, sculpture, jewelry making, weaving and landscape design and chainsaw carving.
I personally have taken painting, landscape design and chainsaw wood carving and have only regretted not taking the time to take courses in the rest. I also have served on the board under her leadership, so I have seen those skills first-hand.
Under her leadership, the Firehouse expanded to provide more sales area so local artists could make their art available for the community to acquire and enjoy. I was fortunate to be the architect on that expansion while working at Architects in Partnership.
So I’ve watched McClellan work tirelessly over the years. When it seems she is slowing down a bit, the next time I talk to her, she has seen something else that needs to be addressed and she has started something else.
So how has the aging process influenced her approach to the arts and the Norman community? After the Firehouse, she and a number of local artists saw the need to create a venue for showing artists not involved in the Firehouse and also for musicians looking for an outlet for their creative process.
This led to the formation of the Performing Arts Studio in the historic Santa Fe Depot. Slowly, they developed programs that included the continuation of the free Summer Breeze Concert Series, quickly leading to poetry readings, the Winter Wind Concert Series, Jazz in the Gallery and gallery art displays.
To sum it up, McClellan has slowed a little, but she still has the vision to make Norman a destination art community. She realizes that maybe it will not be like Santa Fe, N.M., but feels this community will be a better place because of the public art it displays and will continue seeking and supporting local community artists to produce and display their work.
When McClellan thinks of retiring, she sees another need and steps out to fill that artistic void in the Norman community to create the art destination many have envisioned. Until it really happens, her yard will continue to starve for her attention.
David L. Boeck is an associate professor of architecture at the University of Oklahoma.
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