Visionaries Laid Foundation for Arts to Thrive in Tulsa


HONORING WESTBY: For the opening of the Kathleen P. Westby Pavilion in 2000, Tulsa artist Patrick Gordon, front right, presented the Performing Arts Center with an oil painting he created of Katie Westby, front left. Robert LaFortune, back left, and Charles Norman were also honored with theatre spaces named for them. Westby passed away in December of that year.

It’s natural, I believe, to take for granted things we come in contact with every day. Seeing the familiar through someone else’s intake is a good way to rediscover what is truly extraordinary.

I was reminded of that recently on several occasions. One Saturday in early spring, I took a carload of out-of-towners on a jaunt to downtown Tulsa. They admired the trails along the Arkansas River and the confluence of performance venues — Center, , Brady Theatre, Cain’s and other nightspots, all located within a mile or two of each other — and then the Blue Dome District and the Brady Arts area, both busy on a weekend afternoon with carefree roamers and diners.

I drove down East Archer in hopes of showing off our new ONEOK Field. There is a vantage point on Archer where the entire infield opens into full view. My tour group was awestruck at what was to them a surprising and dramatic sight — a lush, tidy stage for baseball with tiers of spectator seating enclosing it like a jewel in a royal blue box.

After taking in Tulsa’s Art Deco and the activity on Cherry Street and Brookside, my visitors thought they were discovering another Austin, only prettier and less congested.

Many Tulsans have worked hard to get our city where it is now. The PAC’s 35th anniversary gave our staff a chance to show off the building and what we do. We discovered during a series of tours that participants were amazed that we owned an incredible art collection. Others were impressed that the routinely hosts more than 500 events every year. The feedback we received helps us appreciate how far we have come after years of building our client base and caring for audiences.

Long before Tulsa’s current movers and shakers were born, there was a handful of citizens laying groundwork for the future. One was Katie Westby, who helped found the Arts of Humanities Council 50 years ago. An outgrowth of that endeavor was the Tulsa Arts Commission and, in 1969, the “one percent for art” ordinance that mandated that one percent of all construction costs for public buildings would be spent on art for that building. Thanks to that ordinance, everyone can enjoy the glorious art at the Center, and the PAC’s art collection that now includes 76 pieces, among so much more art found throughout the city.

It is lovely to have art adorning spaces, indoors and out, across Tulsa. In addition, the art purchased for the has increased dramatically in value. The best example at the Performing Arts Center is the Barbara Hepworth sculpture, Sea Form, acquired in the mid-1970s for $41,500 and now appraised at $1 million. Westby, among others, appreciated the investment possibilities. She played a prime role in selecting art for the , and she served on the Tulsa Performing Arts Center Trust from 1977 until her death in 2000. The named its large reception hall, the Kathleen P. Westby Pavilion, in her honor.

Rediscover the extraordinary in our own town. The components for a big future are already in place. We only have to build upon them and believe in what we have and what we can do.

Nancy C. Hermann is Director of Marketing at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center

Updated 07-15-2012

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