Art of Community Building: Norman
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 (2014): $198,629,711
2014 Census Data
Median household income: $49,038
Persons in poverty: 17.8%
High School graduate or higher (age 25+): 92.9%
Bachelor’s degree or higher (age 25+): 43.5%
From Local Arts Index
State Arts Agency Grants per county capita (2003-2009): $8.51
Total nonprofit arts organizations per 100,000 county population (2012): 7.15
The people in the city of Norman care about quality of life, and their support of these cultural festivals demonstrates this. The community has come together many times to communicate with elected officials and bring issues to ballot that impact the wellbeing of the city and its residents. Making top-notch arts programming available and accessible to everyone has long been a part of that agenda.
For more than 35 years, arts leaders have worked with the City of Norman to develop a mutually beneficial relationship. This has resulted in city support of the arts in four key areas.
Hotel Tax Fund
In 1980, a coalition of business and arts leaders began work on a new deal to create a sustainable source of funding for the arts. At the time there were concerns about public arts funding (such as the National Endowment for the Arts) being reduced or eliminated at both the local and national levels. The community of Norman took action to secure funding for the future.
Through the diligent work of these advocates, the Norman Transient Guest Room Tax was placed on the ballot in 1980, proposing a 4% tax on hotel room rates. The resulting fund was to be divided amongst three entities: the Norman Arts Council receiving 25%, the Parks & Recreation department receiving 25%, and Convention & Visitors Bureau receiving 50%. With 3,552 residents voting, the measure passed by just 28 votes. This slim margin demonstrated the importance of the three entities working together, providing a wide range of benefit to the community. Had any one of them been left out, it’s unlikely the measure would have passed.
In 1981, the Norman Arts Council (NAC) received its first allocation of $35,472. This annual allocation has since grown to over $425,000, comprising about 75% of the organization’s total annual budget. Of that, nearly 60% is regranted to other local arts organizations, helping them provide arts experiences to the public. In the first 34 years of the program, the NAC granted more than $2.75 million to local arts organizations, with a planned allocation of $255,000 in grants in the coming year. After years of successfully managing the funds to the benefit of the public, the Norman CVB championed a request to the city for a 1% increase to the tax in 2013. The arts community quickly got on board and again the measure passed, but this time more than 75% of voters were in favor.
While Norman is a well-known destination for fans of Sooner football, the city has also recognized the importance of the arts and parks as major drivers of tourism. It is estimated that the arts in Norman generate over 1,000 hotel stays annually, which helps grow funding for the future.
This tax program built a perfect platform for the arts community to formalize its relationship with the city, which is now strong and mutually beneficial. The NAC facilitates a roundtable of local arts leaders, which hosts annual forums with the city council and mayor. City leaders recognize the arts community as a constituency of engaged citizens who participate in the political process and care about improving their city.
In 2007 a city ordinance created the Norman Public Arts Board to function as a committee of the NAC. The ordinance also created the Art in Public Places Fund and a process for citizens to donate designated amounts through their monthly water bill to benefit public art projects. In addition to water bill donations, the fund is also supported through private and corporate donations, and surplus from the Transient Guest Room Tax.
Since its creation the Public Arts Board has invested nearly $200,000 in art projects, including artist-designed bike racks, public sculptures, and a series of artful “Samo Ducky” sculptures placed in parks.
In October 2015 a major 15-year bond issue known as Norman Forward was passed, with 70% of voters in favor. This project includes a wide range of quality of life enhancements for Norman. It also mandates 1% of construction costs on public facilities and park improvements will be dedicated to public art through the life of the bond, thanks to an addition by City Councilmember Kyle Allison.
Facilities & Venues
Many cities own buildings that often sit unused or underutilized. In Norman, the city has created partnerships with local nonprofit organizations to provide a home for arts programs in those facilities.
The Firehouse Art Center, an organization offering art classes, exhibitions and other programs since 1971, operates within a city-owned building on the edge of Lion’s Park. On Main Street, the historic Santa Fe Depot is home to the Performing Arts Studio. The Depot presents music and poetry performances, writing classes, art exhibitions, and other events year-round. Other city facilities housing arts and culture programs include the Sooner Theatre, Cleveland County Historical House, Carnegie Library, and other parks and venues.
In addition to use of the facilities, the city also helps to maintain the properties and shares in utility costs. In return the nonprofits activate the spaces for the good of the people, and offer other services such as hosting train passengers at The Depot, or providing public restrooms to visitors of Lion’s Park.
Special Event Support
A place doesn’t become known as the “City of Festivals” without support and cooperation from the city itself. The guidelines for permitting and street closures have been outlined clearly, and the city welcomes new special events. Certain events are even eligible to receive financial support from the city’s general revenue fund.
Norman sets an example for the various ways the arts can be supported in a city, and in turn how the arts can support the city’s goals. When a group of citizens came together to emphasize quality of life, with the arts as a key component, their city officials responded. It is the PEOPLE of Norman who made these things possible. Their story shows that with a shared vision and cooperation, great things can be accomplished.
Special thanks to Erinn Gavaghan, Douglas Shaw Elder, Norman Hammon, and Larry Walker for sharing their knowledge of the arts in Norman.