POSTED ON AUGUST 7, 2013:
Why It Matters
Tate Brady never met J.J. Cale
Message to all Brady District area merchants, property owners, stakeholders, nonprofit chiefs, artists, musicians and artisans:
You're doing a fabulous job: arguably a worldbeater job.
You're getting a bevy of favorable notices and very good reviews from visitors and outside writers; new wave impressions of Tulsa, drawn in no small measure from your efforts, are transforming perceptions of T-Town. And I love to visit, love to hang in the enclave; it's easily my favorite part of town, especially during the monthly Gallery/First Fridays. I spend as much time as I can at fab operations like 108, The Woody G. Museum, the new Philbrook and Gilcrease museum outposts, Living Arts, the 209, the Tulsa Artists' Coalition shop, the Jazz Hall and all of the wonderful eateries. The whole spot is an art entrepôt, a grand, kaleidoscopic expanse, packed with alluring art/performance spaces, frequently astonishing dance/music works, well executed exhibits and wonderfully informed curators. And I get to run into some of the coolest friends and acquaintances I have in all of T-Town.
The world is watching us -- last week I read about the Brady debate in the UK Guardian and I heard that the Wall Street Journal has a party in town this week to scope out our re-brand exchange. But our radiant art district is still a blinkered, half haunted place, at least in terms of racial reconciliation, a boundary busting spot and a set of coterminous downtown warrens where our various "tribes" haven't always gotten along historically. It's been that way for a long time. While I don't want to go into the details, let's just stipulate, as one of my legal buddies might say, that we still have a voyage to complete. That's why the Brady renaming controversy is so material. Renaming the Brady District is hardly the solution to any of our enduring social/racial challenges in Tulsa, but it's a highly visible opportunity, a very inexpensive chance to do simple reconciliation. Quashing the Brady label would be widely appreciated in our hometown, aggressively noted in the national press and might be a tonic spur for bigger steps.
One of my good friends is a theologian, a counselor and a first-rate thinker/mediator; he is also an artist. Mr. Y. C. Johnson, the former minister of the Restoration Unitarian Church in Tulsa told me that we need an extended, deliberative process to resolve the Brady matter, that is, a set of meetings and structured engagement with all of the stakeholders in the Brady District: the property owners, people who operate and manage some of the critical nonprofits that are a big part of the ecology in the district, the philanthropic leaders who have contributed mightily to the new energy that now animates the space, the Greenwood Chamber, Tulsa's JHF Foundation and Tulsa's mayor and the city council would be the key participants. An organized, structured "conversation" would be fair and has no guaranteed outcome, but could be conceived as an experimental extension of our democratic process, parts of what political scientist Benjamin Barber calls "strong democracy." It's the kind of stout medicine that would get us where we need to go. Brady confab: Mr. Johnson is ready for your call.
But we also need to put on our best "imagineering" hats.
Suggestions that go to renaming the district are numerous -- it's an exercise that helps me think more clearly about the whole matter. Some of the folks who might be tagged for the re-name are storied social and political figures with powerful reconciliation histories in our area or in our wider world. One of them is Mr. Ben Hill, a now dimly remembered figure who was one of the first black members of the state legislature, a fantastic writer and a very ecumenical figure who was all about building racial reconciliation and improving the ties that bind Tulsans; Tulsa writer/history maven Ann Patton suggested Mr. Hill to me some days ago.
Another, more visible figure: the recently deceased musician/composer J.J. Cale. I have my friend Jason McIntosh, the chief executive of Tulsa's Jazz Hall of Fame, for reminding me of Cale's enduring import. As readers may know, Mr.Cale was an electrifying figure in American music who expired only a few weeks ago. Part of his fame, part of the magic of his music was that he was a master at mixing styles, genres and our musical traditions. His best pieces are energetic, joyful remixings of musical styles and structures that originate in the blues world, in country, in rock; wild hybrid constructions from a galaxy of musical territories. His best songs like "After Midnight," "Cocaine", and "Call Me the Breeze" are fusion pieces that come from a rainbow universe. Cale's very cool, very ecumenical contribution to music in America is what musical historians now call the Tulsa Sound.
This umbrella category included influences (from and to) artists like Eric Clapton, one of Cale's best friends and someone who brought his tunes to the world stage on more than one occasion. Other inspirations/sometimes collaborations include Tulsa's GAP band, the music of the recently deceased Billy "Blue" Bland, the songs and works of the ever quirky, but personally engaging Rocky Frisco, and the work of Tulsa's legendary Flash Terry.
Cale grew up in Oklahoma and spent part of his time developing his craft in Tulsa. He was extremely comfortable with a gamut of musical styles and cultures. Cale was all about using his outsized imagination and great synthesizing talent to create new forms and songs. New forms that are fully representative of the spirit now so much a part of the our bustling, every morphing art district.
Cale and folks like Brother Hill were amazing Tulsans who understood the simple grace, the soft power of diversity: the magic that comes from actively weaving engagement, and crafting novelty from a myriad of cultures and people.
We could honor them and embrace reconciliation with grace.
I dream of waking up one day and strolling though the Cale/Hill District. Or something akin to it.
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