Nancy Hermann, the director of marketing at Tulsa PAC, 110 E. 2nd St., might be called an accidental cultural activist.
In 2009, she was promoting a Chinese dance performance piece called Shen Yun, which was to be shown at the PAC. Because Shen Yun is influenced by the Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline oppressed by the Communist government, she received some criticism for the show. When it went forward, press reports at the time praised her for heroically standing up to the Communist regime.
This week, Hermann laughingly recalled that she wasn't trying to make a political statement. "I didn't know anything about the Falun Gong," Hermann said. "I just wanted to promote a dance show."
Yet Hermann has pushed the envelope for good causes since the beginning of her career. Raised in Southern California, she came to Tulsa in the early 1970s because she was asked to housesit for Jim King -- the 1960s NBA all-star who played and later coached for the University of Tulsa. Hermann described Tulsa society of the '70s as a network good old boys. "At that time, there was still a floor at the Petroleum Club where women weren't allowed," she said. That changed, however, when Hermann and some other ladies joined the Club. She was one of the first women allowed on the men-only floor, putting "a few more cracks" in Tulsa's glass ceiling, Hermann said.
While Hermann has worked at the PAC since 1993, she has been involved with its work since it opened in 1977. In the early '70s, she was asked to take pictures and be an extra at a performance of the opera Tosca at the Brady Theatre (she played a nun). She did photography at the Brady for four seasons, and the work bled over to the PAC. Recently, as Hermann was collecting memorabilia for the PAC's 35th anniversary celebration in March, she ran across a photo from a performance of Aida, the PAC's first opera. Suddenly she realized, "I took this picture."
While she was moonlighting as a photographer, Hermann worked in oil distribution and took classes at Tulsa Junior College, which had only recently opened. Her life changed in 1979, when she and her husband -- who worked for Williams -- moved to Abu Dhabi. Hermann found herself at another crossroads of history the following year when they had to flee the Arab country in the middle of the night due to the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
They lived in London for a couple of years, where Hermann said she fell in love with the numerous museums. When they returned to Tulsa, Hermann continued to take classes, graduating with an art history degree from TU in 1984. For her whole college career, she took about two classes per semester. Hermann proudly called herself a "non-traditional student." Her work at the PAC began in 1987, when one of her TU professors asked her to catalogue the building's artwork.
"I was only supposed to find out artists' names, the type of medium, that sort of thing," Hermann said. "But I did extra work." She tracked down the artists and got as much information as she could straight from the horse's mouth. It turned out that local artists had done many of the PAC's pieces. Hermann spoke with Alexander Hogue -- the Dust Bowl-era landscapist -- and Eugene Bavinger-- the OU professor noted for his abstract paintings. She even spoke with Joan Hill, one of the world's most famous painters of Native American art.
This report marked the beginning of a writing career that led Hermann to Art Gallery International and Tulsa People, among other publications. At Tulsa People, she was responsible for writing profiles. Her first profile assignment -- in the early '90s -- was Mouzon Biggs, Jr., the senior minister at Boston Avenue United Methodist Church, 1301 S. Boston Ave. She recalled going up to that first interview with a bit of trepidation. Biggs' office was near the top floor of the church at the end of a long elevator ride. "I felt like I was going up to Heaven," Hermann said of the experience.
Hermann's path led back to the PAC. In 1993, she became the editor of Intermission, the Tulsa PAC's magazine. She held this position, in addition to her duties as marketing director, until December 2011. She remains proud both of her work at the PAC and of the PAC itself. Instead of chairs or a couch, her office has some of Chapman Music Hall's original theatre seats.
Hermann notes that the PAC has always been on the cutting edge of both Tulsa culture and the digital age. "We were one of the first PACs in the country to start a website. There were maybe 15 before us," she said. "I remember people saying that nobody's ever going to buy theatre tickets online." Yet the PAC's digital experiment was a resounding success.
This success paved the way for the creation of myticketoffice.com in 2005. The website was conceived as a way for the PAC to generate revenue to get it through tough times without resorting to taxpayer funds. "Other regional PACs run their ticket sales through myticketoffice.com and the Tulsa PAC gets a fee for each sale," Hermann said. She was involved in the creation of this website and manages it today. She credits its success to the PAC's "entrepreneurial spirit" as well as to Tulsa's dedication to the arts. "Tulsa is an arts town," Hermann said. "Tulsa has more performing arts than even larger cities."
Despite the fact that the BOk Center attracts more nationally known celebrities, Hermann doesn't see the two organizations in competition. "Tulsa likes names," she said. Whether the name is Taylor Swift or the late opera singer Beverly Sills, Tulsans will come to see their favorite stars regardless of the venue.
Moreover, she is thrilled at the revitalization of downtown. She sees the PAC as a "bastion of the arts, but not a castle surrounded by a moat." As a result, the "Downtown cheerleader" -- as Hermann called herself -- is happy that the area is able to offer something for everyone.
Today, Hermann regards her duties as somewhat mundane. She manages a couple of websites, writes a few articles, and promotes the PAC's shows. "Why would Urban Tulsa want to do a profile on me?" she asked. Yet both by fate and by drive, she has been at the forefront of Tulsa culture for the past 35 years. Because of Hermann and people like her, Tulsa is able to remember its cultural roots while moving forward further into the 21st century. "The people who came here in the 20s had a taste for life," she said.
Thanks to the accidental cultural activist, that taste for life has endured.
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