With the addition of a new mural on University Avenue and Oxford’s arts center, the Powerhouse, located there – this semester Oxford Stories is embarking on a small solutions journalism project. Our reporters are starting a community conversation about the possibility of a continued arts emphasis in the University Avenue area.
University Avenue is home to many of Oxford’s main attractions and businesses. While some may view it as the older part of town, a new mural recently added an injection of color to the corridor, and some say more public art in Oxford could mean more tourism.
“It seems like there was a time that businesses were closing or moving away from University Avenue a few years ago,” said Kinney Ferris, deputy director of Visit Oxford. “Businesses seemed to be moving to the Jackson Avenue area because that was more populated with college students as well as Oxford residents.”
Ferris is in charge of promoting Oxford through digital and print media to attract visitors. She keeps track of the most popular areas visitors frequent and understands what tourists look for in Oxford and and in other cities across the country.
This past summer, Oxford’s first mural was painted on the side of Sneed’s Hardware store on University Avenue. The mural was commissioned by owner David Shaw, who wanted something unique.
It features abstract shapes and colors, allowing individual interpretation. The vibrant mural seemed to draw Oxford residents’ attention back to the University Avenue area.
“I love the new mural,” said Ferris. “Visitors love it, and we get a lot of good feedback. It is beautiful and gives interest and uniqueness to Oxford, which helps while marketing the city as a destination for visitors.”
Ferris said the University Avenue area is a unique part of town.
“I think it has had its share of growth and decline over the years,” she said. “I think it is on the upturn now. Sonic is a good example of this. It was closed for a time for remodel, and that was unattractive, but now it looks great, and it looks better than ever.”
Many other cities across the country feature murals that are tourist attractions. Ferris believes more public art could increase visitor traffic in the University Avenue area.
“Public art is always a yes for me,” said Ferris.
Ferris said the idea of designating University Avenue as an arts district, or continuing an arts emphasis in that area, could be beneficial for Oxford.
“Due to the mural already on University Avenue, this area of town would be the most logical location,” said Ferris.
Kim Mathis is the office administrator, visitor service coordinator and Double Decker Bus coordinator at Visit Oxford. She understands the Oxford tourism industry and said adding new businesses, such as shopping centers and restaurants, could be good additions to the University Avenue area.
“In addition to new business, I think an arts district would be an interesting concept to explore,” said Mathis. “I am not sure how exactly an arts district would be set up in Oxford. However, I think it could end up being very successful.”
Mathis said it could offer a unique opportunity for Oxford.
“I believe this would be a great tourist attraction and would really help to promote Oxford as a destination for travelers,” she said. “The idea of an arts district fosters creativity in a community. The more creativity a community fosters, the more that community will progress and flourish.”