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.
Sara Kate Rushing
Oxford, Mississippi is well known for its creative culture. Many renowned artists, writers, chefs, and other artistic people reside in the town. Travelers from all over visit.
Some in the arts community envision an Oxford arts district with residential and studio artist spaces.
Wayne Andrews, 52, is the current director of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council in Oxford. The Connecticut native and his wife, a Mississippi native, have lived in Oxford for 10 years.
Andrews moved to Oxford because he thought the job would be enjoyable, and he believed he could make an impact.
According to Andrews, the arts council has been around since 1972. It has produced many artistic projects, such as the annual Oxford Film Festival, and it boasts one of the top six public art projects in the South – a sculpture trail that stretches throughout the town. The council also provides free, monthly business workshops.
“We are not a traditional arts council,” said Andrews. “We run an arts incubator, which helps organizations and people start sustainable, arts-based businesses.”
Many filmmakers, artists, and writers go to the arts council with a vision of what they want to accomplish with their future projects, but they do not know how to get there, or do not have the funding for it. The arts council helps implement ideas and see the completion of their project.
“We help them with the administrative, operational, the planning, and the resource development so that their project can occur,” said Andrews. “Our goal is to continue to add to the community, and build the capacity, and use those things to define the place.”
According to Andrews, having an arts district in Oxford could ultimately impact the town’s economy positively.
“Arts programming in Lafayette County brought in 233,000 people, generating $11 million dollars of economic impact,” said Andrews. “Having an arts district will also solve some of the town’s congestion problems.”
He said an arts district could create a central place for travelers to find information on artists located throughout the town and places to shop for art.
Andrews said people today would rather spend money to travel and have experiences. All of this could be achieved by creating an arts district.
“Millennials and post-Millennials are coming to eat, listen to talks, see art, and leave feeling like they had an intimate experience,” said Andrews. “This is what Oxford does well.”
The Yoknapatawpha Arts Council has locations in the Powerhouse, the Old Armory Pavilion, and the Lafayette County Arena. Andrews’ vision for the council is to take these locations and add in residential artist space.
Lea Kain, an employee at S & J Art Gallery, believes Oxford could benefit from the creation of a designated arts district. The Batesville native recently moved to Oxford after living in Las Vegas for 27 years. Her husband is an artist, and he has taught from the ages of kindergarten to high school for more than 30 years.
S & J Art Gallery is located on the Square, and Kain said the gallery sells products, such as paintings, handmade pottery pieces, and limited edition prints. The pottery is made by Mississippi potters, such as the Satterfield’s, and the store has pottery from the Mississippi Delta and south Mississippi.
Kain said an arts district would add to the community and bring it together.
“An arts district could partner with the Double Decker Arts Festival and a variety of Ole Miss activities that involve students and their families alike,” said Kain.
Kain said University Avenue would be a great place to implement an arts district.
“If having an arts district can revitalize and revamp University Avenue, I think it would be a good idea,” said Kain. “There are some vacant lots there and some businesses that have gone down. I think University Avenue would be a great area to start just due to some of the property along there not being utilized.”
Kain says it would be neat if the town used these vacant lots and spaces to make artist studios and rent them out.
Whether or not Oxford invests in an arts district, the town will continue to draw art enthusiasts from around the world.