By Ed Long
“It is not about who we want to be; it’s about who we are.” Bruce Carter, owner and curator of the Tallgrass Art Gallery in Pawhuska and also our tour guide, reminded us of this at the beginning and end of our day when a group of Creative Oklahoma board members and leaders from several of our Oklahoma Creative Community sites toured the northeast Oklahoma community in the heart of the Osage Nation and visited with local leaders and Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear to learn more about their story.
The contributions of Ree Drummond, aka the Pioneer Woman, have been tremendously helpful in bringing in thousands of tourists each week. The new attractions also allow members of the community an opportunity to tell a story that is more than a century old. Drummond’s Mercantile is described as an anchor complimented by the rich history and culture that surround it.
Our guides for the day reminded us that communities can benefit from talking to newcomers or those passing through to better understand what they see as they walk the streets and visit local businesses. Many of us who grew up in small towns in Oklahoma often take for granted the resources that surround us and the incredible potential that already exists.
The vibrant culture and thriving commerce in Pawhuska has not been solely reliant on the influx of outside funding to help with development and restoration. In true Oklahoma spirit, we heard accounts of friends and neighbors investing significant sweat equity to accomplish their goals for the town. At the end of a long day, business owners close up shop and head down the block where their neighbor welcomes their help in cleaning up sites and renovating where needed.
In addition to telling the story of who they are, Pawhuska has stepped up to develop new solutions that build on existing resources. For example, Bruce Carter recognized that there were a number of nationally recognized artists displaying their work in top galleries around the country. Yet, there was no place locally to showcase their talent. Carter’s art gallery provides a venue for visitors to view art that they would otherwise have to travel hundreds of miles to see.
Being a creative community, however, is not just about art. While art and cultural attractions are important for quality of life, creativity is also about innovative businesses, new approaches to learning, ideas for solving local challenges and new ways to work together to accomplish common goals. As Bruce reminds us, challenges are simply creative opportunities.
At the end of the day, we decide how we are going to view the opportunities in our community. We decide to step up and do something to help our family, friends and neighbors. We decide to move forward and find solutions. These decisions create the story that our children will one day tell. This is what it means to be a creative community. This is who we are.