ART OF COMMUNITY BUILDING: PAWHUSKA

This case study is part of a series investigating the variety of ways that Oklahoma communities invest municipal resources and funding in the arts. These stories illustrate how these investments, big or small, can have a positive impact on citizens, civic pride, tourism, and the general well being of a place and its people.

Community Profile
City Budget (2014-15): $2,938,500
2014 Census Data
Population: 3,605
Median household income: $30,153
Persons in poverty (%of total population): 22.6% 
High School graduate or higher (age 25+): 
87.7%
Bachelor’s degree or higher (age 25+): 4.8%
From Local Arts Index
State Arts Agency Grants per county capita (2003-2009): $0.94
Total nonprofit arts organizations per 100,000 county population (2010): 4.17

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Pawhuska, Oklahoma’s vision to become the artistic destination on the Tallgrass Prairie for both artists and patrons is a useful template for municipalities trying to make the most of their history, geography, and local talent. The key to Pawhuska’s success has been connecting the dots to build a unified vision.

As Pawhuska is the seat of Osage Nation, the importance of tribal support in its artistic growth cannot be overstated. Much artistic and culturally rich work has been going on in Pawhuska for quite some time, but Preserving Arts in the Osage has been able to offer centralized momentum for grant writing and the development of a holistic cultural district plan for downtown Pawhuska. 

Meanwhile, local businesses and organizations like Tallgrass Gallery, Pawhuska Merchants Association and Osage Nation Museum are forging ahead to stoke the creative capacity of Pawhuska through branding and infrastructure.

The brand: artistic destination of the Tallgrass Prairie. First stage of the infrastructure: artist residency at Tallgrass Gallery, which includes a community arts education component.

Not only does the city want to attract artists, but to cultivate an arts-savvy citizenry who appreciates and participates in Pawhuska’s burgeoning art scene.

Untitled #19, by Timothy Nevaquaya, a Comanche artist on display at Bruce Carter’s Tallgrass Gallery

Bruce Carter, Owner and Curator of Tallgrass Art Gallery, has been a force of leadership in Pawhuska’s arts push since he moved to town and City Manager Mike McCartney encouraged him to open a gallery.

An important part of what any city or municipal official can contribute to the artistic growth of their city is their connections.

The majority of the city’s contribution to the work of Carter and others in the creative community has been in connecting the dots. Whether between the need for artistic infrastructure and the skills of a new resident or between an arts non-profit and a municipal building where they can house their exhibitions.

And in addition to all that the city has fervently and vocally supported the direction they see the creative community driving Pawhuska. Moral support, while intangible, is an incredibly valuable thing a city can invest in the arts

Part of this civic fervor comes from an arts-conscious City Manager and several City Councilmembers who have gone through Oklahoma Arts Council’s Leadership Arts program, making Pawhuska another shining example of the importance of voting arts-friendly candidates into municipal office.

Pawhuska is appying for Cultural District designation through the Oklahoma Arts Council and in the meantime continues to knit together an identity as and infrastructure for an artistic destination.

All community-building work is hard work, intricate work; Pawhuska shows it is essential to have people from across the arts and culture sector, from the city’s chamber of commerce, and from civic leadership united in a vision for their city that builds the benefits of the arts into every part of civic life.