Art of Community Building: Ada
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.
City Budget (2014-15): $64,883,408
2014 Census Data
Median household income: $33,943
Persons in poverty (%): 25.2%
High School graduate or higher (age 25+): 86.3%
Bachelor’s degree or higher (age 25+): 30.9%
From Local Arts Index
State Arts Agency Grants per county capita (2003-2009): $3.32
Total nonprofit arts organizations per 100,000 county population (2010): 2.67
Ada Arts District: https://www.ecok.edu/academic-affairs-programs/academics/colleges-schools/college-liberal-arts-and-social-sciences/school-fine-arts/arts-district-ada
East End Eats: https://www.facebook.com/events/256996734649736/
Ada, Oklahoma is full of promising college students and passionate professors who would like to see more of those students stick around to invest in the city. Retaining young professionals after graduation is a mountain every college town tries to climb, and one that can feel steep in small-town Oklahoma.
Part of Ada’s answer is creating a young professional-friendly culture through the arts. The city has developed an Arts District and arts-friendly policies to encourage the growth of the arts sector so the sector can contribute to the city’s social and economic vitality.
The city has supported the Arts District development by simplifying event permitting procedures and updating policies around street performance, though much of the leg work to capitalize on these policies has come from community volunteers.
The need to create a specific event policy came to light across a number of committee meetings where both city employees and volunteer constituents discussed the mutual benefit to the city and its citizens of a clear policy. This overlap is important. Highlighting that an arts and culture-friendly event policy was a fire department-friendly policy and a waste management-friendly policy provided useful leverage in making the change.
The essence of the change was that the city compiled existing permitting requirements from across several city departments and offices into a single permit.
“The permitting process is much much simpler,” says Bridget Forshay, a professor at ECU, which is important because “most of [the] planners are doing the work on a volunteer basis.”
Events like East End Eats, a new monthly music and food truck event in Ada, are often run by groups of volunteers. The new, streamlined event permitting process makes it easier for such groups to leverage their limited time most effectively.
In other words, policies that make it simpler to plan an event, make it possible for organizations to put on more events.
Arts events in public spaces have been an important piece in Ada’s move to retain young professionals; they are rallying points for policies that promote a more walkable city of culturally vibrant neighborhoods. By advocating for a small change to the city’s code on event permitting and public performance, constituents from ECU, the Ada Jobs Foundation, and Chickasaw Nation made more art possible and accessible in Ada.
The city has also contributed to this push for a young professional-friendly culture by providing special zoning for an Arts District. The district provides visibility for the city’s arts and culture – key in a sector that thrives on people seeing and sharing.
One metric of the city’s arts-friendly policies is the economic impact data ECU has tracked during it Fine Arts seasons. Recent years have shown increasing economic impact, as attendees often travel and patronize other local establishments as part of an arts experience.
The story of Ada is that arts-friendly policies, whether around public performance or permitting large events in public spaces, are a critical tool cities can use to support and promote the social and economic well being of their people and their place.