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The City of Ada and East Central University played host to 40 people from 18 different Oklahoma communities last week [April 16 -- 17] in conjunction with the Oklahoma Arts Council Leadership Arts class.

The class visits three cities each year that are active in the arts. The first two workshops were in Lawton and Bartlesville.

"We decided to have the Leadership Arts class in Ada this year because of all the arts development that is going on here," said Georgia Williams, special development coordinator for the OAC. "To me it's one of the most dynamic towns in Oklahoma."

Members of the Leadership Arts class view the lobby of the Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center. 
Members of the Leadership Arts class view the lobby of the Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center.

The class participants spent a day and a half in Ada, with the majority of the workshop being held at Wintersmith Lodge. The forum included various speakers from the community and the OAC who discussed forming an arts district - from planning and partnerships to community input and marketing. Food was provided by locally owned Ada restaurants.

On Friday afternoon, the class members were treated to a tour of Ada's developing arts district that featured stops at Wintersmith Park's amphitheatre, sculpture garden and arboretum; the Ada Arts and Heritage Center, the Sugg Clinic Building and Pontotoc County Courthouse, the Old Bank Art Gallery, McSwain Theatre, Chickasaw Multimedia Studio, the Ada Hub, Loretta Yin's 9th Street Studio and the horse sculpture on 12th street. The final stop was a tour of ECU's Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center.

"It's good for the participants to see it (Arts District of Ada) in the development phase and we look forward to coming back as it progresses," said Williams.

"I was impressed by the overall commitment from the Ada community partners in making the arts district a reality," said Bud Sexson, managing director for the Bartlesville Community Center and a Leadership Arts class participant. "It was especially nice to witness this as a 'work-in-progress' and having people share the good, the bad and the ugly of it all."

Many members of the class expressed their excitement about what they saw taking place in Ada.

"The great thing about Ada is how much it is growing," said Gloria Short, program coordinator for the Stillwater Community Center. "I would definitely come back to Ada for an event after seeing it now. People are looking for the whole package when it comes to entertainment."

"I'm from Medicine Park," said Denise Wynia-Wedel, fine arts coordinator for Redlands Community College, "and I can see a lot of ideas that Ada has implemented that would be useful for my community. I think it would great to bring my husband to Ada to see the environment."

The participants also learned about the Arts District of Ada's business incubator that will be located on East Main Street, close to the Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center. The funding for the incubator is part of a federal grant ECU received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development to help develop the arts district.

"Ada will have the first arts business incubator in the state," said Williams. "It's something that many people in arts development have been interested in, but no one has initiated the idea in Oklahoma until now."

In addition, the participants were excited about ECU's Art Department using service learning to paint/renovate the exterior of houses located in the arts district. Each academic year, students in the art department will paint one house in the district that is occupied by the homeowner, using traditional art deco/craftsman colors. One house has already been completed, which the class viewed during the arts district tour.

"I'm just glad people from all over the state were able to see all the great venues and projects that are happening in this area as a result of including the arts as a vibrant part of sustainable community development," said Dr. Rick Wetherill, director of ECU's Center of Continuing Education and Community Services. "I'm especially happy that ECU has been able to successfully partner with numerous community institutions to help spotlight some of our 'hidden' jewels."

"People from around the state are recognizing the hard work and partnership within our community to develop the Arts District of Ada. We have something that many communities can learn from," said Bridget Forshay, community development coordinator for the Arts District of Ada. "This was an incredible opportunity to promote our artist, local talent, venues and tourism. It's important that people in our region realize that Ada has something in our community that the rest of the state is looking toward."

Forshay, along with Amy Elliott, executive director of Tri-County Indian Nations Community Development Corp. and Dr. Brad Jessop, chair of the ECU Art Department, were members in the charter class of the Leadership Arts class last year.

The purpose of Leadership Arts is to develop a statewide network of community arts leaders and advocates. Emphasis is placed on learning how arts and cultural development can be harnessed to create economic opportunity and provide a high quality of community life.

"Leadership Arts tries to educate its yearly classes by exposing them to the inner workings of the 'latest and greatest' arts-related developments," said Wetherill. "In my opinion, Ada has justifiably impressed not only Oklahoma, but the nation with its drive and creativity in support of the arts."

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