Art of Community Building: Oklahoma City (Part 1)

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 and its people.

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Community Profile

City Budget (2015-16): $1,248,141,657

2014 Census Data
Population: 631,346
Median household income: $47,004
Persons in poverty (% of total residents): 18.2%
High School graduate or higher (age 25+): 85.0%
Bachelor’s degree or higher (age 25+): 28.5%

From Local Arts Index
State Arts Agency Grants per county capita (2003-2009): $12.27
Total nonprofit arts organizations per 100,000 county population (2012): 15.76

Links: 
Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs: https://www.okc.gov/departments/planning/programs/office-of-arts-and-cultural-affairs
OKC Arts Commission: https://www.okc.gov/departments/planning/programs/office-of-arts-and-cultural-affairs/arts-commission
OKC’s Comprehensive Development Plan: https://www.okc.gov/departments/planning/comprehensive-plan
OKC’s Art Master Plan: https://www.okc.gov/home/showdocument?id=2774christine

 

A Cultural Plan is “a constant state of planning and implementation…it’s constantly chess,” said Oklahoma City’s Arts and Cultural Affairs Liaison Robbie Kienzle.  And advancements made through Oklahoma City’s Cultural Plan are dynamic testaments to the benefits of city investment and staffing in arts and cultural development.

Kienzle said the existence of the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs in Oklahoma City (OACA) is the result of the alignment of three key elements – time, resources, and political will.

In 1980 the Oklahoma City Arts Commission was established to advise the City Council on arts and culture. Then with strong advocacy by the Commission, the City’s percent for public art ordinance was solidified in 2009, dedicating a percentage of the budget to construction projects.

The Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs was born in 2012, a year of budget surplus when the City of Oklahoma City was searching for new ways to invest with strong returns for the community. The timing was right since the community already clamored for more help developing public art and incorporating arts and culture into community development citywide, the Oklahoma City Arts Commission was already in place and the Cultural Plan called for more coordination with the city.

The resources were available, the timing was right and the political will was present in municipal government to invest in something new. By remaining attuned to these factors, the Planning Director was able to secure a budget for a new Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs and hire Kienzle from within the Planning Department as the first staff member. Her history leading a division with the Planning Department, as well as with community development and Arts Council OKC, offered an accelerated start to OACA’s work.

 

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“Inclined” by David Phelps in OKC’s Bricktown District, PC: Serge Melki

 

Part of Kienzle’s ability to remain attuned to timing, resources, and political will lies in the longevity of her career with Oklahoma City. She is a deep well of municipal knowledge who can see current events in light of more long term trends and movements and can share that knowledge with colleagues.

Longevity is an asset that many artists and arts advocates bring to municipal advocacy. When one has lived in a town for a long time one often sees current events more clearly. And as Oklahoma City’s example suggests, the ability to gauge the timing or content of a proposal such as a cultural plan against the economic, social, and political terrain of a city is critical to any plan’s success. Many of the Oklahoma City Arts Commissioners have been involved in City leadership for decades.

The implementation of the Cultural Plan has also required another kind of dedication – that of committed stakeholders like Kienzle, other board members and volunteers along with strong consultants to roll the plan out in ongoing conversation with local current events and within practical bounds.

Like much arts and culture work at the municipal level, even though the city contributed funds and the time of city employees, implementation of the plan required work above and beyond. When beginning implementation of the cultural plan, Kienzle and Julia Kirt, who served as co-chair of implementation, made the decision to roll out one piece of the 5-initiative plan at a time. This gave them the ability to focus exclusively on each initiative in turn and to set achievable goals for the community.

A variety of stakeholder groups, from artists, to nonprofit organizations, to advocates, have helped guide the work of each initiative. Oklahoma City’s cultural plan is not a road map to a static destination in an immovable landscape; it is a mobile of interconnected goals where movement in one arena sparks new understanding and new planning for the future in all the others.

Stay tuned: the next installment in the Art of Community Building series will focus on the 5 initiatives in Oklahoma City’s current Cultural Plan and lessons learned in their planning and implementation.