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.
Art can be found in every corner of Oxford. Sculptures in Lamar Park, The Powerhouse Community Arts Center, and the upstairs space of Sugar Magnolia Antique Mall are just a few of examples of art-centric locations. But would an arts district be supported in Oxford?
“I feel that Oxford has a thriving arts community,” said Debbie Myers, a local watercolor artist who discovered her love for watercolor painting while earning a degree in graphic design from Arkansas State University. She began her career as a full-time artist in 2009 when she retired in Oxford.
Myers is involved in the Oxford Arts Community as a member of the Oxford Artist’s Guild, Plein Air South, and Mississippi Plein Air Painters. She also teaches watercolor painting classes for adults through the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council at The Powerhouse on University Avenue.
Myers said the digital age has created a new market for art.
“The digital art is good for graphic design, advertising, and marketing because time is money,” said Myers. “So the faster you can get things out the better.”
Myers and Pam Locke, another local watercolor artist, said between websites and social media, it is now easier to get their work in front of customers.
Locke said some of her recent orders came through her Facebook page from other towns in Mississippi and Memphis.
“The digital age introduced a whole new way of art,” said Locke.
Locke earned an associate’s degree in graphic arts from Texas State Technical College in Waco, Texas. Her natural world watercolor paintings have been recognized with awards and exhibition invitations.
She was also a featured artist in the Double Decker Arts Festival in 2017 and a member of the Oxford Artist’s Guild. The self-proclaimed “Texas Girl” began her art career as a graphic artist, illustrating ads for local companies.
“Once upon a time, there was no such thing as clip art,” said Locke.
Locke described her illustration work before the digital age with Polaroid pictures, outlining and sketching, and cones of ink to build an ad. She adapted to the digital age by learning Adobe programs and other art software.
“I can’t decide if it’s a good or bad thing,” said Locke in regards to the mix of traditional art and new age digital art.
Locke said artists are no longer gallery exclusive due to internet marketing. Many now primarily use the internet as a marketing and selling place for their artwork, rather than a brick-and-mortar art display space.
How do these local artists feel about the possibility of an arts district in Oxford?
“The Square is such a center of the universe for so many different reasons and many different folks, but people avoid the Square,” said Locke.
She said an area with open space and less traffic for a potential art’s district could encourage people to venture away from the Square.
Myers believes Oxford has something similar to an arts district between events at the Powerhouse and new event spaces being developed for art shows off of Highway 6.
“I think there is traffic on University Avenue, like everywhere else in Oxford,” said Myers. “The new development off of Highway 6 and events put on by the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council are always bringing people to University.”
Locke said she doesn’t believe there would be support to develop an arts district. People would see it as unnecessary in comparison to other potential businesses.
“There is money in town to develop an arts district, but the town doesn’t need art to survive,” said Locke.
Although Locke leans towards the idea that there would be a lack of support behind a potential arts district, she does believe it would beneficial to the community, and that there is a potential for arts growth in the community with residents and Ole Miss students.
“There is room for growth of the arts here,” said Locke. “I wish there was more play between the school’s art department and the community of artists that live around Ole Miss.”
Myers said opportunities are offered to students in local art shows and events, such as the Art Crawl.
“The art community here is very supportive,” said Myers. “Art students and the art community at Ole Miss support what goes on in the Oxford art community.”
Locke’s art is inspired by memories, thoughts, and moments in time. She was passionate about her opinion of how artists impact in the world.
“People are too busy with their heads stuck in their phones, they don’t see the world around them,” said Locke. “Artists capture the moment around them so people can see it and cherish it, whether it be the Square, a place on the Ole Miss campus, or a favorite place in a childhood memory. Those places and moments in time are important for a whole, healthy lifetime.”