Commentary: Public art enhances our quality of life 


Oklahoma City is beginning to embrace public art in a new way, and quickly. Artists, citizens, nonprofits and city leaders are coming together to make it easier to create and install new pieces.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a surge in murals, sculptures and creative lighting appearing around Oklahoma City — some permitted, some not.

But it’s a beautiful thing, and it has forced a conversation about what constitutes public art, who should have a say in the concept, and if there are limits on what is displayed.

The result has been that we are now seeing more organized public art competitions, artist trainings, more fundraising efforts for public art and groups like DowntownOKC and the City of Oklahoma City’s Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs providing assistance with permitting and promotion.

Public artworks along Western Avenue and in the Plaza District, Automobile Alley, Midtown and many other areas are garnering national attention for our willingness to let artists have full creative freedom.

Let’s not let this momentum stall out. Art is meant to be intellectually and emotionally provocative, and the more of that we can provide to residents and visitors in our city, the better.

Recently, the city’s planning department, under the advisement of Bricktown Urban Design Committee, lifted decades-old language from an ordinance regarding murals in Bricktown. Before this month, all artistic graphics in the district had to be “historically, architecturally or culturally significant to the Bricktown area, the city of Oklahoma City or the State.”

But when that line was removed, Bricktown’s playing field was leveled, and it showed the entire community that our city supports these efforts.

We will definitely start to see a fresh approach to what happens in Bricktown, including the first project to appear before the Oklahoma City Arts Commission under this new ordinance, Jack Fowler’s “Bricktown Octopus,” a proposed mural for the outside back wall of Chevy Bricktown Events Center — currently, a drab concrete wall.

Hopefully, this will be the first of many pieces that will invite and inspire even more creativity.

Restrictions and ordinances often come from a good place, but sometimes they outlive their usefulness. It’s now time to move away from that model and allow for more personal expression. There are plenty of blank walls in this town and room for as much diverse art as we can squeeze into it.

Public art helps create a distinctive sense of place, builds community pride and gives visitors incentive to continue exploring. In many cases, art also provides a comfort or educational function, and it always sparks more curiosity and creativity.

Art can also have a positive economic impact on surrounding businesses, help prevent vandalism and create opportunities for collaboration and unique partnerships.

We all should be proud that Oklahoma City has begun to embrace the importance of public art. It’s an indicator that these areas are thriving.

And to stay relevant and maintain our attractiveness as a great place to live and to visit, we must continue advocating for progressive changes.

We talk a lot about quality of life here, and part of that is the high value we place on artistic expression.

Art in our city can celebrate history, reflect the present and promote our future. It also could just be stunning and fantastical. The point is all art, but especially public art, is about freedom — freedom to create, freedom to change, freedom to think and examine, and even freedom to critique.

Jill Brown DeLozier is vice president of Downtown Oklahoma City, Inc.

Print headline: Public art enhances our quality of life

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