Artists' Alley

Putting Mangum on the Map

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The arts cluster that popped up in Mangum, a tiny town of about 3,000 people, was the result of a perfect storm of a lost lease, a Main Street program, and a returning resident.

Read the other articles in this series about Oklahoma Main Streets:
Oklahoma Main Street: Bright and Booming in the Heartland
Bricktown
Stockyards City
Plaza District
Artists Alley
Wilburton
Perry

In 2006, a local potter lost her lease on a building located just outside downtown. Her store had become a destination for tourists visiting the Quartz Mountain Resort so she really wanted to open a new location. Meanwhile, Neil and Greta Kane had returned to their hometown of Mangum and bought a historic building downtown. The Mangum Main Street program brought the two together and Artists' Alley was born.

"The Kanes came here from Austin, a city just booming with arts and humanities work, and they wanted to support the arts in their new home," says Maxine Thomason, formerly the executive director of Mangum Main Street and now the mayor of Mangum. "They chose a historic building on the corner of an alley. The building had been vacant for so long they couldn't find any records on the structure."

The Kanes rehabbed the building, transforming the upstairs into a loft apartment, which hasn't been vacant since the building was first rented out in 2006; four gallery spaces and a coffee shop now occupy the ground floor. The aforementioned potter was the first artist to open her studio, and soon thereafter, artists from the community and surrounding area rented the other spaces. The Kanes are committed to keeping rents affordable in their property. Greta even became the Main Street program's president, while Neil joined the board.

Thomason says the Main Street program didn't start out to create an arts niche, but there were many area artists who had no place to display their work. She's an enthusiastic supporter of the direction Mangum is taking because arts programs in the schools are underfunded, which she says is typical of many small communities, and because the arts improve the town's quality of life.

The concentration of studios and galleries in the alley led to the city commission to officially rename the street "Artists' Alley." The arts niche has had a trickle-down effect on the whole downtown. The Kanes bought two more buildings and other people began investing in downtown and opening businesses.

Today, Mangum is proud to boast 24 new businesses. Thomason says an entire city block that was vacant for years is now home to an ice cream shop, a coffee shop, a newspaper office, and a restaurant. Although Artists' Alley is fully occupied, artists are opening studios in other spots along the Main Street district.

"Our sales tax collection has increased 27 percent from when Main Street got started in 2004," says Thomason. "Artists' Alley has been a true economic generator that benefits everyone."

Property owners are able to take advantage of a Main Street matching grant for facade renovations and can tap into the design assistance offered by Oklahoma Main Street. Several people, including the Kanes, took advantage of an energy audit offered to Main Street communities through the state's Department of Commerce. They received funding matches to install energy-efficient heat and air systems, which allowed them to channel their money into other renovation projects.

Each building rehab inspired another. Thomason says people became excited about the transformation in downtown's appearance, especially when aluminum siding or wood panels were removed to reveal original brickwork or transoms. "In one building, they opened up the transoms to discover that the light coming through the window reflected off the original tin ceiling," says Thomason. "That, with the restoration of a skylight that had been previously covered up, produced enough natural light to allow the business owner to operate with lower energy costs. It was a great surprise."

From the zip codes noted in various studios' guest books, it is clear that Mangum is becoming a tourist destination. The Quartz Mountain Resort located 10 miles away has a variety of events that Mangum Main Street often ties into. During the summer the resort is home to the Oklahoma Arts Institute for high school students. Mangum produces an art show, which the children attend, and local residents can participate in Institute events that are open to the public.

In the last few years, Artists' Alley has received recognition and accolades from many groups, including Oklahoma's Department of Tourism and Recreation and Department of Commerce. It has been featured in state magazines and television shows. Its local artists were asked to exhibit at the Governor's Gallery in the state capitol in 2008; and in 2009, the Oklahoma Main Street Center named Neil Kane the Main Street Hero of the Year. It just goes to show that one alley can transform an entire downtown.

The Power of Main Street

National Main Streets Conference: Oklahoma City, May 2-5, 2010.

There is only one gathering each year that brings together people who understand exactly what kind of work you do… the kinds of opportunities specifically available to a community like yours… the types of challenges you face and the creative ways to overcome them. It's the National Main Streets Conference.

For three days, you'll experience a whirlwind of great ideas, inspiring speakers, innovative solutions, and thought leaders who are involved in historic preservation-based economic development. Other conferences may explore community revitalization, but only our conference frames it within the structure of the proven Main Street Four-Point Approach® and shows you how to achieve your goals using volunteer teams.

We are pleased this year to showcase the successes and stories of Main Street communities throughout Oklahoma. This article showcases our host city and its revitalization story. Case studies from communities throughout Oklahoma highlight what's been happening in recent years around this great state to get you amped about joining us in Oklahoma City for our upcoming conference.

Free Main Street 101 Training from National Experts!

There's no free lunch anymore, but there is free Main Street 101 training by National Trust Main Street Center (NTMSC) staff. New directors, board members, and volunteers are invited to participate in our day-long, free training on the basics of the Main Street approach on Sunday, May 2, at the 2010 National Main Streets Conference. You don't have to be registered for the conference, but we bet the valuable education and the enthusiastic atmosphere will make you want to stay. If you are a Main Street executive director from a town near Oklahoma City with board members and volunteers who plan to experience the conference vicariously through you, encourage them to come for the day and attend the free Main Street 101 sessions. NTMSC staff will cover each point of the Main Street Approach and share inspiring examples so you'll know how things should be done.  Main Street 101 Training (free): Sunday, May 2, 8:30 a.m.–6:00 p.m