Art of Community Building: Pryor
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.
City Budget: $6,094,513
2014 Census Data
Median household income: $41,963
Persons in poverty: 18.6%
High School graduate or higher (age 25+): 86.9%
Bachelor’s degree or higher (age 25+): 18.8%
From Local Arts Index
State Arts Agency Grants per county capita (2003-2009): $3.71
Total nonprofit arts organizations per 100,000 county population (2012): 7.3
Strolling down Main Street in Pryor, Oklahoma, you’ll be hard pressed to find a vacant storefront. The street is alive with business, from book and gift stores to restaurants and Oklahoma’s longest continuously running movie theater (the Allred Theater, opened in 1902).
The street hosts a number of community events, such as the popular Pryor Main Street Chili Christmas Festival, with a sidewalk chalk art competition and a chili cook-off sanctioned by the International Chili Society.
Just a block off of the bustling Main Street an exciting transformation is taking place in the former city hall building. After construction of a new city hall facility two years ago, the old building sat vacant awaiting the right opportunity. Though several potential tenants inquired about the building, none of them aligned with the new vision for downtown set forth by the city and the recently designated Main Street (a part of the National Main Street program).
Mayor Jimmy Tramel found a creative solution with the Pryor Area Arts & Humanities Council (PAAHC), which has been completely volunteer-run for 27 years and was without a brick-and-mortar home. The Mayor had been transporting his grandchildren to a nearby community for art lessons since none were available locally. This made it clear to him that one thing his town was missing was access to the arts and cultural diversity.
Mayor Tramel worked with PAAHC board members to negotiate a $1 per year lease on the building with shared utility and maintenance costs, allowing the small organization to take on the big task of converting it into an art center. With an already strong pool of volunteers, the PAAHC has been working since July to build out an art gallery, music rehearsal studio, a small theater, artist studios, and workshop/classroom space.
The art gallery, where you’ll find local artwork available for sale, and music rehearsal studio are already open for business. Once completed, the theater will host local productions and open mic nights. The art center provides a space for the PAAHC to expand on the success of existing programs, such as the annual art walk and summer arts camps for children.
In his 2015 “State of the City” address where he announced the city hall-art center conversion, Mayor Tramel said, “I’ll always be dedicated to improved quality of life, financial stability and making Pryor a great place for people and business. Stand tall, be proud, embrace your community and every aspect of it; that’s the way we will continue to grow.”
The new art center has now become a key part of the Mayor’s vision for downtown Pryor as a destination for locals and visitors to shop, dine, be entertained, and experience the arts. This all adds up to more potential for sales tax revenue and growth for the town.
Beyond the art center partnership, the City of Pryor also regularly supports PAAHC programming through their Hotel/Motel Tax Fund. The organization is able to access these funds through grant applications, typically in support of their annual Northeast Oklahoma Art Show. This tax fund has been in existence since 1998, and since the beginning it has supported projects fostering tourism and special events.
The PAAHC board members and volunteers, and particularly President Diana Reeves, are making big dreams a reality for their town with their ongoing commitment to providing art experiences, strong relationships with city officials, and creative partnerships.
Additional details on plans for the art center can be found in this article from The Pryor Times.