POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 5, 2012:
A Haven for All
Guthrie Green opens as a gathering place for all
There's so much happening downtown."
Or "The revitalization of downtown Tulsa is really going gangbusters."
Or "Man, this is a pretty great time to be in Tulsa."
We all hear these sentiments thrown around, and we have for years.
The thing is, though, all this stuff is true. Downtown Tulsa continues to become cooler and cooler.
The latest addition to the area opens this week. At first glance the Guthrie Green is a park. But it's a lot more than just that.
Shirley Elliott, who works for the Tulsa Performing Arts Center Trust and serves as program director of Guthrie Green, led with the name.
"The Green is green," she said. "It's got geo-thermal wells in it, and that will ultimately help power the Mathews building. And all the water that drains off the Green is going to be recycled, and the dock area, which is where the restaurant is going to go on the north side -- it's got solar panels."
So there's that. It's eco-friendly. Neato. But there's so much more. It's a little spot of green right in the middle of an urban setting. There are five water features. There are lights. There's a performance venue.
And regarding that, Elliott and Steve Liggett -- program director for Living Arts -- spoke at length about the arts and artists and the importance of each in a community, they both made a point to specify that the Guthrie Green is more than just another place to hear live music.
"I wouldn't say entertainment is the main function," Elliott said. "I think the main function is a green space in this urban environment. It contains a performance venue and water features and a restaurant, so it's a combination of things. It's not entirely a performance venue."
Well, then, why the Guthrie Green? Why does this place, nestled in at Boston and Brady, exist?
"What we're trying to accomplish is creating a gathering place. A gathering place for people, and this is a great location, because it's an interaction of several communities," Elliott said. "And we hope those communities will meet and interact and gather and appreciate in the park. So you come for dinner, and then go walk in the park after. Or you might go to Lucky's and then hear some music after."
Lucky's, by the way, is Lucky's On The Green, a restaurant opening under the able knives of Matt Kelley, who also runs Lucky's on Cherry Street.
But the Green and the new restaurant and everything else going on is all a part of a larger, concerted effort to build an arts-based community.
Often, when one thinks of such a thing, one imagines Soho. And that's not an accident, according to Liggett.
"Soho in New York was actually the model that a lot of developers have used all across the United States," he said. "You get the artists to move in. Because it's cheap and its derelict and people are thinking, 'Nobody wants this, so I can do what I want.' So artists move in, and then it starts to become kind of chic."
It builds from there, and we all know what this means.
"Then restaurant owners and bar owners start thinking, 'This is going to develop, so we need to get in on that,'" Liggett said. "Then the developers start thinking, 'Hey, let's up the ante a little and get in on that,' and it grows from there."
Elliott chimed in to speak about how the Guthrie Green in particular, and the whole Brady district and downtown areas in general, have come to be what they are today.
"Part of the process in building a community is called asset-based community building," she said. "We look at what we have that's good. What does Tulsa already have? We're building on the assets, not the weaknesses."
One of the things Tulsa has is a vibrant arts scene. So why not capitalize?
"Some of the developers have a real vision for this to be forever an arts district," Liggett said. "The artists are the main part of the creativity and what's happening in this area. None of this can exist without the artists, both performing and visual artists. They're the element that keeps change alive. Without them, it's just another Bricktown, you know? Just another franchise city."
"Back around 2005, we needed a strategic plan," he continued. "We brought in a guy from Minneapolis called Tom Borrup. He's got a book called The Creative Community Builder's Handbook. He came in to help us, and what he found was that Tulsa doesn't really know who it is. We don't have, like, barbecue as our big deal or whatever. He really searched for, you know, 'What is specifically Tulsa?'"
In addition to the arts scene, we also have some pretty great buildings. Think about it -- how many artists are out there painting or photographing Tulsa buildings? They're not doing so because they're bored, you know.
"We have this rich history of all these old buildings and things like that, so we want to build on that, not try to tear them down and start over," Liggett said.
"There's this notion of 'Don't throw away the past,'" he said. And it's starting to pay dividends.
"Now, people like the Guthrie foundation are looking at this area and saying, 'Let's go there,' Liggett said. "Now there are lofts and things, and people are moving down here and creating a village within a municipality."
That's good for a lot of people and a lot of businesses for a lot of reasons, Elliott said.
"There are a lot of businesses that have been down here a long time waiting, and they have invested in this area," she said. "Spaghetti Warehouse has been here a long time. Caz's has been here a long time." And the Guthrie Green is just the latest newcomer joining these mainstays.
Elliott hopes that this means more and more people will keep pouring into the downtown area.
"I'm hoping that a lot of people who never come downtown or who think that downtown is questionable will come down and see what this district has to offer," she said. "We want people to be able to come and experience something interesting."
To that end, the Kaiser Foundation, which served as benefactor for the Green, and Elliott plan to look to the artists to drive what's happening there.
"We hope to use the space in multiple ways," she said. "What we really hope will happen is that artistic groups like Living Arts or Portico Dans Theatre Tulsa Camerata or whoever will say, 'We want to do something there,' and it won't just be a strictly-music venue, but an artists' venue."
Relying on the creative community to come up with creative things seems like a no-brainer, and again, Elliott's banking on that being a good idea.
"People will figure out interesting ways to use that space and come to the organizers with proposals that are of interest," she said. "It's an arts park, and we want to see Tulsa's creativity. We don't want to see the same thing every weekend. We want really interesting events to happen there. We rely on Tulsa's creativity. It's the artists. It's not the programmers like me. It's people who will say, 'I've got an idea for something really interesting in the park.'"
Beginning with Friday's 3pm ribbon-cutting ceremony, we'll get to watch the whole thing take off.
"The fountains will be running, and food will be there, and the lights will be burning, and it's going to be beautiful. It's going to be a wonderful place to be," Elliott said. "There's a lot of good things happening."
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