By RENEE FITE
About three dozen people from across the state were dazzled by Tahlequah last week.
Participants in the Oklahoma Arts Council Leadership 7 Class were in town Wednesday and Thursday as part of their experience.
Leadership Arts Class 7 includes four, two-day sessions over four months, and features networking, workshops and tours of Oklahoma towns and cities. The goal is to enhance the arts in the participants’ communities and the state.
“The Creative Community Builder’s Handbook, How To Transform Communities Using Local Assets, Art and Culture,” is the primary written resource.
“It’s absolutely important, in funding for the arts, to convince people with facts how the arts improve the economy, along with changing people’s lives,” said Molly O’Connor, director of Cultural Development with the Oklahoma Arts Council.
The direct benefits of creative industries are their impact on the economy. The arts give people something to do, increase sales tax, create jobs, attract new businesses and make the community more attractive, with a better quality of life.
Class members participated in a hands-on activity by making pottery tiles with artist Lisa Rutherford, at the Cherokee Art Center following the Wednesday evening meal.
Mayor Jason Nichols, Tourism Director Kate Kelly and Main Street Director Drew Haley shared a short overview of how community partnerships are investing in Tahlequah culture and economy during a panel session Thursday morning mediated by Chamber of Commerce Executive Director David Moore.
Nichols told the group he has a standing monthly meeting with the chief of the Cherokee Nation, the chief of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma, and the president of Northeastern State University, which brings collaboration to the table.
“We accomplish more together for the benefit of the city and county,” he said. “It’s the spirit of cooperation.”
Moore said city leaders are fortunate to have the community backing.
“It’s a spirit of collaboration when you put your money together to benefit the city as a whole,” said Moore. “Norris Park went from eyesore to the jewel of the community. The Iguana Cafée began revitalization. From that improvement, people began to invest and open shops.”
The Red Fern Festival was the first festival held at Norris Park, said Kelly.
“Most schools around the nation read ‘Where the Red Fern Grows,’” she said. “People are very interested in the story, and we’re the only ones who can lay claim to the festival.”
Beth Herrington always describes Tahlequah as a “City of Firsts,” said Kelly.
“We draw upon history and focus on the future,” she said. “We had the first platted main street, first newspaper, first institute for higher learning and first flour mill.”
Art’s on the Avenue is the only fine arts festival in Tahlequah, said Donna Tinnin, with Cherokee Nation Tourism.
“We feature regional art and artists,” said Tinnin. “At the Cherokee Art Center and Spider Gallery, we help keep artists here to make a living here.”
The Cherokee National Holiday, held each Labor Day weekend, brings 100,000 people to town, said Tinnin.
Tahlequah was an inspiration to many.
Artist and art educator Kiona Millirons, of Oklahoma City, said she’s learned much about communities coming together though partnerships.
“I’ve been so impressed with the downtown, the people and the passion of the people who came and talked to us,” said Millirons. “It was inspirational just to hear the story of where Tahlequah was 10 years ago and see it today. It’s phenomenal! Other small towns want to do this that are like Tahlequah, and they can be a Tahlequah.”
For Matt Moffett, with Tulsa Girls Art School, meeting members of the city government and the people who live here, and getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the city made the trip to Tahlequah great.
“I love the panel and learning about the marketing that the Chamber does,” Moffett said. “They’ve made some super-creative use of their downtown buildings. I love the murals you have here. You can change the whole energy and appearance of a whole street with one mural. Tahlequah is fortunate to have those murals.”
The morning panel discussion was informational and motivational.
“I love that the partnerships have grown this town culturally and thus economically,” said Erin Woods, with Reduxion Theater Co. in Oklahoma City. “And the investment from the community and community leaders is really evident.”