NORMAN — From vacant to thriving, an abandoned old lumberyard in downtown Norman is being transformed with month-long arts programming during StART Norman by the Norman Arts Council.
Norman Arts Council Executive Director Erinn Gavaghan said the programming is designed to inspire change and a sense of community through the arts and “placemaking.” The initiative is a hybrid of two existing models: Better Block, which takes underutilized urban areas and revitalizes them with arts activities for a weekend, and No Longer Empty, which takes vacant properties in urban areas and places sight-specific art installations for a temporary amount of time.
Norman’s celebrations kick off 6-10 p.m. April 11 at the southwest corner of west Main Street and Webster Avenue, with a weekend packed full of free activities, art installations and pop-up restaurants and vendors. A month’s worth of programming will follow, including everything from the performing to visual arts.
With any luck, Gavaghan said StART Norman will inspire residents and visitors to reimagine the potential the city’s empty spaces contain.
“After that we turn the space back over to the owners,” she said, referring to when the programming is done. “We hope that we will have started a dialogue of people who want to do something on that block, giving owners an idea of what they can do with the lumberyard.”
The idea for the arts initiative was formed in spring 2013 after the city’s hotel/motel tax increased, leaving NAC with an additional $50,000 of unbudgeted funds. Gavaghan said NAC formed a committee of community leaders, including partnering with the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for Quality Communities, to form a plan to develop a select portion of the downtown area. Additional funds were provided by Fowler Holding Co.
Since then, she said the committee has budgeted every single penny of their funds, including hiring a project manager. The rest of the funds have gone to artists and developing a month’s worth of free arts programming for the public — an investment that includes something for everyone in the community.