OH at a Meeting: It’s Not Just a Bike Rack

Posted by Ms. Margy Waller, Jan 26, 2016 0 comments

We were in Oklahoma City and Heather Ahtone of Norman Oklahoma shared a story about the power of Arts And…, a moment when, as she said, “The arts community met a civic need in a creative way.”

Her city, like lots of other places, is growing fast. So fast that traffic has gotten a lot worse in the center. City planners decided to encourage more people to start riding bikes to get around, improving the quality of life for everyone. What happened next? The Norman Public Arts Board offered to find places to put all those bikes by inviting everyone to suggest fun and artistic bike racks. Anyone in the community could send in an idea and the arts council worked with a manufacturer to bring many of those ideas to life as community-inspired and co-created bike racks for all to enjoy.

Here’s what’s important about this story. The arts board responded with its offer to contribute to a community identified plan to make Norman more healthy, equitable, and vibrant. Healthy because…exercise and clean air. Vibrant because…much more interesting and colorful than the typical bike rack. Equitable because…bikes can be inexpensive to buy and cost much less than a car to operate, and the racks are sponsored in part by a car dealer!

The arts board promoted this idea in a way that encouraged everyone to get involved. This visible, tangible, practical initiative was made more fun and memorable by adding citizen-inspired, co-created art. And notably, it’s not an initiative that is about the art. It’s about the community and the arts added value to the effort.

We believe in the power of the arts to contribute to creating the kind of places—rural, urban, and suburban—where we all want to live in the future.  That’s why Americans for the Arts is looking for many more examples like the Norman Bike Racks in the New Community Visions Initiative. We want to learn more about how to support and encourage this sort of community collaboration and partnership between the arts and other sectors.

Representatives of Americans for the Arts and their partners are traveling the country for a year to ask: “What will our shared future look like and how can the arts—our music, dance, museums, festivals, murals, artists, theatres, and more—contribute to community building and development of healthy, equitable, and vibrant places?”

People from all over are coming together to share their perspective on the kind of places they desire for the future, and how we can work together to create those communities.

By people from all over, we mean people from all parts of the community—not just the people who work in and advocate for the arts. They’re participating in this initiative, via regional meetings, meetings at other conferences, and with a downloadable toolkit that anyone can use at home, at school, at work, or anywhere people gather.

We’ve just been to two of the eight regional meetings on our tour and we’re heading to the third this month. Watch this space for more stories we’re hearing and things we’re learning. Let us know what you think. 

A version of this article also appeared in ISQ in January 2016.

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