Art of Community Building: Duncan

This case study is part of a series investigating the variety of ways that Oklahoma communities invest municipal resources and funding in the arts. These stories illustrate how these investments, big or small, can have a positive impact on citizens, civic pride, tourism, and the general well being of a place.


Duncan (pop. 23,173) is located in southwestern Oklahoma.

Community Profile
City Budget (2016): $56,000,000

2014 Census Data
Population: 23,173
Median household income: $40,171
Persons in poverty: 17.2%
High School graduate or higher (age 25+): 85.4%
Bachelor’s degree or higher (age 25+): 19.3%

From Local Arts Index
State Arts Agency Grants per county capita (2003-2009): $10.21
Total nonprofit arts organizations per 100,000 county population (2012): 8.93

Chisholm Trail Arts Council:
Duncan Little Theatre:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center:
Simmons Center:
City of Duncan:
Duncan Chamber of Commerce:
Duncan CVB:


The Simmons Center Theatre in Duncan hosts a variety of performances throughout the year.

In the early 1980s a group of Duncan civic leaders established a task force to create a community center for their town. They sought a place where people could enjoy culture, entertainment, and recreation, which would contribute to the health and well-being of the local people and respond to needs expressed by the community.

With the support of city officials, the Duncan Public Utilities Authority partnered with the Duncan Chamber of Commerce to develop a governing board to assess the feasibility of such a large facility and oversee the project. In 1984, with plans for the center developing, the City of Duncan offered the initial $3,000,000 of the capital expenses from the city’s general fund to get the project off the ground.

Ultimately, the City decided to purchase the land and build the facility itself, rather than leave it in the hands of a trust authority. A private family gave a memorial contribution of $2,000,000 that led to naming the facility the L.B. and Ola Simmons Community Activity Center (or Simmons Center).  A group of citizens helped raise the remaining funds, and by 1987 they had broken ground.

Today, the Simmons Center includes a wide range of fitness opportunities, such as an aquatic center, tennis and basketball courts, jogging track, dance rooms, and more. There are also flexible rooms for community activities and meetings. Thanks to the steadfast involvement of the Duncan Civic Auditorium Foundation, it also includes a state-of-the-art 750-seat theatre.

The Civic Auditorium Foundation formed long before plans for a recreational center began, with the goal of creating a theatre for the performing arts. Starting as a group of engaged citizens, the Foundation became a nonprofit in 1960 and raised funds through their bi-annual Civic Capers performances, featuring local talent. By 1984, plans for the Simmons Center were shaping up, and the Foundation unanimously voted to contribute their funds and resources towards this effort. Conditions of the donation included the auditorium size, and ongoing updates, oversight, and involvement.

TDFF lobby

Film lovers were welcomed in the lobby of the Simmons Center during the Trail Dance Film Festival.

The Simmons Center Theatre provides a venue for many of Duncan’s art and culture offerings, such as the Trail Dance Film Festival, programs of the Chisholm Trail Arts Council, and Duncan Little Theatre productions.

At the time of the Simmons Center construction citizens approved a 5% hotel tax to benefit tourism and economic development activities, allowing the Simmons Center Foundation to make grants available to subsidize the cost of renting the facility. These grants, known as the Community Spirit Awards, make the facility accessible to organizations such as Duncan Little Theatre, which is recognized as a strong community theater in Oklahoma.

ssdsc_9104 cast and crew v1

Duncan Little Theatre received rave reviews for their recent performance of Beauty and the Beast.


A partnership of the City of Duncan and the Duncan Convention and Visitors Bureau developed the Tourism Event Support Program. The program provides start-up funding for new arts and culture events that bring visitors to the area, and is intended as “seed money” to assist in their development.

In past, these public funds have supported events such as the Chisholm Trail Arts Council’s Annual Art Walk and a pop-up art show presented by Dreamer Concepts. Applications to the Tourism Event Support fund are reviewed by a 15-member community advisory council.

The City of Duncan recognizes the important role the arts play in the lives of its citizens and in attracting visitors to their town. By providing top notch facilities and opportunities for funding, the City has encouraged a diverse array of cultural programs to develop in their community.

For over 30 years, the public and private sectors have developed strategic partnerships to maximize their resources, and to make Duncan a place where residents and visitors alike can appreciate art and culture.

Note: Read the full history about how the Simmons Center developed in this publication, commemorating the Center’s 25th Anniversary.