Norman's downtown revamps its look by adding paintings to businesses, retail shops and restaurants 

Norman has been hiding something from those that don't live there. It's been hiding it in the clothing stores, in restaurants and even in the gym.

Let's just say there was a need " a need for something else in Norman besides campus and Campus Corner. With this need, the downtown art scene along Main Street was born.

OK, so maybe Main Street was there way before the university, as the plaques along the street explain in detail, but the art wasn't. Now Main Street, in collaboration with the Norman Arts Council, has developed a one-of-a-kind art culture.

There were once, not too long ago, many vacant buildings along Main Street. During the worst of the recession, the place appeared littered with them. A few boarded windows still line the street; however, new retail stores and studios are trickling into the area relatively inexpensively and filling those empty spaces. It appears some good may finally be coming from the bad economy.

"Rent is cheaper, parking is more ample, and there's the chance to fit in with the non-Campus Corner set," said Travis Searle, co-owner of the popular Guestroom Records.

"Definitely more galleries have popped up around here," said Emily Montgomery, the general manager of Boyd Street Magazine, whose office has been on Main Street for more than four years.

"I would like to see even more galleries pop up," said Erinn Gavaghan, executive director of the Norman Arts Council. "Let's just keep this momentum going!"

That momentum is a trend that Johnny Thompson, president of retail store Impulse, hopes will continue as downtown Norman is rejuvenated.

What might be igniting this color-filled trend is the exclusive relationship between the Norman Arts Council and business owners along Main Street.

"It seems to me that a big part of the growth in the last few years has been the collaboration between individuals, organizations and business to make the 2nd Friday Circuit of Art a huge success," Gavaghan said. "When you have that kind of collaboration, the results are exponential."

2nd Friday, as the title suggests, occurs every second Friday of the month. The shops, coffee bars and galleries leave their doors open after-hours to welcome the crowd.

When it originally began more than two years ago, 2nd Friday was a twice-a-year event, but because of the growing popularity, it became a once-a-month affair.

"Walk around, look at some art, grab a drink," said Alex Bacon, a Norman resident. "Pretty nice starter for the Friday, if I do say so myself."

What seems to be particularly unique is the manner in which the art is sold and presented to the public. Artists, who go through the Norman Arts Council or even on their own, bring in their paintings and stick them on the wall to sell.

That means art may show up in unusual places.

"Even the downtown gym, they even sell art stuff," said Josh Lunsford, the associate director for the Norman Arts Council. "Every business that comes in now, they realize that's what it is."

What's the secret behind this overwhelming group of business owners and art enthusiasts? Although paintings might not take up that much room, the store owners are the ones paying for the space. The owners don't make that much money off the commission of the relatively inexpensive pieces. So, what's the point?

"It's a good time to help support the area," Thompson said.

They might not make much in commission, but the 2nd Friday Circuit of Art grants stores an opportunity to collect and show off merchandise they wouldn't have otherwise. Even for the artists, it's a win-win.

Among other exciting things happening in the art scene in downtown Norman is the growing popularity of the Norman Music Festival, which also makes its home on Main Street. The Norman Arts Council and the SongWriters Association even have collaborated for the 2nd Friday Circuit.

The next 2nd Friday Circuit of Art will be held from 6-10 p.m. Dec. 10. "Sarah Hill

photo Johnny Thompson. Photo/Mark Hancock

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