POSTED ON JULY 28, 2010:
Stick to What You Know
Tulsa is undoubtedly an arts town, but do we willingly accept that title?
I have a brother named Tony. He's a few years younger than I am, but he's just the right age for a good sibling rivalry.
Growing up, Tony was quite the athlete. He played sports from the time he could walk and was always good at every sport he tried. I can remember few times in his life that he wasn't the best player on his team.
I was always jealous of his abilities, and the acclaim that they got him. In case you didn't know, being a good athlete is a great way to get attention. When you're playing a sport, everyone is watching you. Even when the game is over, they're talking about you. Throughout the years, I'd tell my parents that I wanted to play a certain sport, and they'd take the opportunity to remind me that I was good at different things, like art.
I think cities are like people. We all have personalities and attributes that make us unique. Some cities are "sports towns," for example, while others are "arts towns."
When I think of "arts towns," I think of places such as Austin, Portland, Seattle, Santa Fe, and I'll even add in music and food cities such as Memphis, Kansas City and New Orleans.
When I think of "sports towns," I go a different way. I think Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Boston. Sports and arts and architecture and food and music are things that make a city what it is. Those things, and a city's feelings about them and history with them, are what distinguish one place from another.
Some cities, like some people, are well aware of their identity and are therefore able to celebrate and promote it. I don't think it's important that a city be one thing or another, just that it know what it is.
Cities such as Austin, Texas and Portland, Ore. have become trendy cities in the past few years. They are celebrated for the way they've developed their city, their culture and for their generally progressive and artistic ways.
Oklahoma City, conversely, has embraced its "sports town" culture. They built a ballpark downtown, renamed streets after baseball players, and aggressively went after and nabbed an NBA franchise.
It seems to me like Tulsa struggles with its identity sometimes. Are we an arts town? Are we a sports town? Do we celebrate our art deco architecture? Do we embrace our history of music? Just who are we?
The people charged with promoting our city seem to have trouble getting on the same page. It's like they have different ideas about what we should be, so they keep pushing their own misguided agendas, all the while neglecting the personality that we clearly already have.
I think Tulsa is an arts town. Here are some things that support that claim. We should all be able to agree about these things: We've got incredible architecture; we've got great museums; we've got great cultural areas known for restaurants and local retail; we've got large and well-attended arts festivals; we've got a hugely successful performing arts center. Our arena is very popular for its music events (not as much for its sports). We have historically significant venues (Cain's and Brady Theater) that do very well. We have a strong local arts scene that is well supported by those with money and appreciated by the starving artists who make it special.
We have several community theater groups that are full of life and energy. We have a history of national celebrities in both film and in music, we've had some important films shot in Tulsa, and until this year, we had a pretty amazing urban music festival.
In Tulsa, we have this opportunity to really define ourselves as an important city for arts, music and film. When a citizenry starts to embrace their personality, like Austin and Oklahoma City have, it helps the public to define the path to progress. If Tulsa is looking for ways to differentiate itself from competing cities, we have the answer. I've heard it reported that individuals within our "metro area" chamber have said things like, "Tulsa is not a festival and convention city. We're into sports and brick-and-mortar business."
This lack of vision will keep Tulsa on a slower pace to progress. While our neighbors in Oklahoma City have city leadership who are all well aware of their city's personality and are aggressively moving ahead as a city, Tulsa is at times cursed to fumble around, relying entirely on entrepreneurial private citizens to inspire the public.
A Tulsan named Jason Connell started the Tulsa United Film Festival several years ago. He's since moved on to L.A. where he now makes films and puts on a series of film festivals across the world from San Francisco to New York to London.
Connell still puts on his festival in Tulsa, by far the smallest of the host cities. The festival will be July 29-Aug. 1 at the Circle Cinema. Connell believes in Tulsa and in the potential we have to be an important city for filmmaking.
Tulsa native, Marshall Bell will be honored at the festival. Marshall recently starred in The Rock and Roll Dreams of Duncan Christopher, a full-length motion picture set to make its Tulsa debut at the festival. Duncan Christopher was written and directed by Tulsans, starring Tulsans and filmed in Tulsa.
This festival is an important thing for Tulsa in a number of ways. I invite you to join me in celebrating Tulsa by celebrating Tulsa film. (Check out more on the Tulsa United Film Festival on Page 39.)
The Tulsa United Film Festival is just one of the exciting pieces of a dynamic local arts scene. Continued support of events like this will do two important things for Tulsa: It will show our city's "promoters" that the arts is their ticket, and it will help these already special things to grow, which feeds the cycle.
Tony and I grew up. He continued to be the athlete and even played soccer in college. While I tried my hand at sports and even enjoyed playing, I eventually embraced my identity and developed the artist inside of me, and I now get to create for a living. One's not better than the other, but it was important for me and my process of growing up to become comfortable with who I was.
Check out a fantastic locally owned movie theater in The Circle Cinema, one of the best films to ever come out of Oklahoma in The Rock & Roll Dreams of Duncan Christopher, and Tulsa's most notable film festival, the Tulsa United Film Festival.
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