For a few glorious weeks in April and May, StART Norman, an experiment using the arts to reintegrate the populace into the community, transformed Main Street between Webster and Santa Fe Avenues.
StART Norman turned Main Street into a vibrant, engaging community for citizens and artists alike. The south side was filled with food, art and fun. Vendors sold ice cream and artwork, and there were music and games in the yard at the corner of Main and Santa Fe. The north side included a cycle track, bike parking and outdoor seating. More importantly, the old lumberyard at the corner of Main and Webster was renovated and retooled as an artists’ studio where spontaneous works of art were created.
The arts were represented exceptionally well at StART Norman. Art exhibits and performances included an oompah band, the Norman singers, sidewalk chalk art, poetry reading, Namron Players Theatre, the Norman Public Library, live painting, film screenings, writing workshops, woodworking projects, open mics, the Sketchbook Project and the Songwriters Association of Norman.
One example of the artisans who participated in StART Norman is Bob Mansfield. Mansfield was the accordionist for the oompah band that played April 12. His bigger contribution, though, was a demonstration concert on the accordion, covering the instrument from its invention in the mid-1800s forward. The concert was about an hour and fifteen minutes long and featured accordion music by the decade.
“We had eleven different instruments in the concert, accordions as well as squeezeboxes,” Mansfield said. While the concert was personally satisfying, Mansfield did say he wished StART Norman had been better attended.
Despite lower-than-anticipated attendance, existing businesses, like Sweet Basil, Elusive and the Bead Shop, benefitted from the uptick of people and commerce in the area, as did several “pop-up shops” from merchants like Eat At Local, Das Boot Camp and Mariposa Coffee Roastery. Furthermore, many of the artisans exhibiting at StART Norman were able to introduce themselves and their work to a broader cross-section of the community. Perhaps most encouraging, the next generation was introduced to the arts through a variety of family art activities during StART Norman, including an aluminum foil sculpture activity that is still featured on StART Norman’s Twitter feed (@STARTnorman).
StART Norman was conceived as a fusion of two national model projects: Better Block and No Longer Empty. Better Block started in Dallas, Texas, in April 2010. Over a two-day period a “blighted block” was restored, empty storefronts were once again filled with businesses and residents were able to enjoy outdoor spaces and a heightened quality of life. No Longer Empty employs an “interim-use model” that locates art exhibits in empty or abandoned buildings in a community. Curators work with recognized artists, emerging artists and the hosting community itself to establish the curatorial theme of the art exhibit.
While it is unclear whether or not StART Norman will be held again next year, many of this year’s participants would like to see it return. And they would like to see even more of the Norman community come out to join in the festivities. For more information on StART Norman, contact the Norman Arts Council at (405) 360-1162.