art + community + architecture

︎ Title:

Oklahoma Creative Communities

Oklahoma Creative Communities Initiative

The Oklahoma Creative Communities initiative is designed to identify and develop the creative capacities of a community for economic development and improved quality of life.  This initiative focuses on locating and mobilizing the creative abilities of individual citizens to identify and solve community problems.

Traditionally, communities have focused on the challenge of attracting outside resources. We believe that effective community development is based on understanding assets and abilities of local citizens and teaching them a problem solving process to creatively address local concerns.

Communities become stronger and more self-reliant when linked together for problem solving purposes.  Gradually, as relationships among assets inside the community are rebuilt, residents cease to look first toward outside help in addressing the most important local concerns.

The keys to community regeneration are:
  • locating local assets
  • connecting them in mutually beneficial ways
  • expanding networks to include marginalized and overlooked assets
  • teaching people how to creatively solve local problems

Finding the strengths of community members and connecting them to problem solving initiatives is ongoing work and part of the community building process.

This initiative will identify creative strengths of local citizens using an online, research based creativity assessment.  A software platform will serve as central nervous system of the initiative for information exchange and virtual problem solving activities that will be available 24/7. The software will encourage locals to maximize the use of their own community’s creative strengths and abilities to solve problems.  As the initiative expands, residents will have access to creative ideas and input from other communities, states, and nations.

What is unique about this initiative is teaching and empowering local citizens to solve problems from within, thus promoting self-reliance and sustainability. Local citizens design and carry out the process and action plans with the assistance of trained facilitators. This replicable model will educate and inspire citizens to create change and a sustainable future for their community.

Communities that have mobilized internal assets offer opportunities for real partnerships, especially for investors who are interested in effective action and a return on their investment.

Oklahoma Creative Communities

Numerous small towns and cities throughout our state face difficult economic and societal issues that government programs and/or private businesses simply cannot solve. But through the Creative Communities program, our citizens can. Creative Communities fills the support gap, teaching citizens to find creative answers to old problems—using innovation to improve lives.


Creative Oklahoma defines this new project, Oklahoma Creative Communities, as a group of engaged citizens, across all sectors and within a defined geographic region, that come together as a thought leader group with a commitment to a creative problem solving process whereby new ideas, that have value and did not exist before in the community,  will be generated and implemented.  The defined geographic area can be a municipality, Native American nation, or designated districts within Oklahoma’s two metropolitan cities.

Each community determines priority issues and ideas that will grow the economic base of the community and improve quality of life for all citizens and then works together on the implementation plan. Partnerships, leadership development, and cross-sector collaboration are key elements of each creative community.

The goals of the Oklahoma Creative Communities project are threefold:  
  1. To facilitate the generation of new ideas that would contribute to the economic and societal community transformation and develop implementation plans for each significant idea;
  2. To build the creative leadership capacity of each community through schools and local businesses;
  3. To document and highlight stories of individuals and successful projects as case studies to learn from and to bring about state pride.  

Shared stories about these communities will be widely promoted to inspire the next generation of Oklahoma entrepreneurs, teachers, artists, and policy-makers.

Creative Oklahoma will work intently with communities over a twenty-month time period to cultivate new ideas and to further identify, strengthen and expand their assets and creative capacities of citizens with the strategic intention of improving their economic well-being and life quality. These communities will be invited to showcase their stories, talents, and assets at a major creativity event in 2017, with major national and international attention.


Most “creative community” initiatives throughout the nation are either arts and traditional creative industry focused, or solely economic development strategies. In our initial research we have not discovered any other statewide creative community initiatives that tap into the creative and innovative talent of community residents to develop new solutions, cross-sector inter-disciplinary networks of engaged citizens, and the development of creative school, workplace and civic environments where new ideas are encouraged and implemented.

The project will emphasize these unique elements:
  • In-depth community engagement and teamwork,
  • Validation of citizen ideas through research-based creative problem solving methodologies,
  • Engagement of young people and the senior in the process, as well as other cross-sector community leaders,
  • Advancement of a creative community environment that welcomes new ideas and is sustainable.


  • A+School
  • Oklahoma City Metropolitan Public Library System
  • AHMM Architecture
  • atelier aL 
  • Oklahoma Municipal League


Location: Altus, Oklahoma
          Durant, Oklahoma
          Enid, Oklahoma
          Guthrie, Oklahoma
          Locust Grove, Oklahoma
          Okmulgee, Oklahoma
          Pawhuska, Oklahoma
          Ponca City, Oklahoma
          Tahlequah, Oklahoma

Year:    2017-2018

Team:   Creative Oklahoma
        Oklahoma Municipal League
        Oklahoma City Metropolitan Public Library System
        atelier aL
        AHMM Architects

Creative Communities: A State of Mind
October 4, 2017/,
By Loran Mayes, OCC – Altus

Oklahoma Creative Communities is more than meets the eye. Is it a program? Is it a project? Is it an event?  Well, here in Altus it has become a state of mind. Not only did they come in and take our “but that’s just how we do it” statements and our “but where is the money” questions and explode them, they forced us out of our comfy little-town box.  They have pushed us to reconsider who a leader actually is.  They have asked us to embrace those “sandpaper people” in our lives and communities. They have asked us to really look at the root issues and not just complain about the symptoms of those issues. And we are better because of it.

We have gone from looking for that “magic project” to make the difference to becoming the difference our community needs. Now, does this mean we throw the baby out with the bath water? Absolutely not. This process has pushed us to not only address areas of concern and needed improvements, but to really address our best attributes.  

This “US” is now more inclusive. More diverse. More Altus. AltUS Is working to really include all of US in who we are.

The process is not for the weary. It can seem daunting. You have to give up your own personal desires and plans in order to find what is truly best for the community. To join in this movement, to really become a community member that is part of the solution is to enter a state of creativity.

Our slogan has always been, Altus – A city with a future to share. It’s time to define that future.

Learn more about who are at  and

Our Contribution

Creative Oklahoma will be responsive to the needs of Creative Communities by working diligently to bring in additional resources to support their efforts to take ideas to action. This includes, but is not limited to, a creative problem solving tool, a facilitator, access to requested training and education opportunities, peer learning, venues for sharing experiences, support for grant-seeking and access to additional technical expertise as needed.

Short-Term and Intermediate Outcomes

  • Various projects and stakeholders are coming together for a shared purpose and vision through the OCC process
  • Participants recognize their ability to be part of the solution
  • Participants who have not previously worked well together are doing so as they work through the OCC process
  • Resources from outside of the communities are engaging in local projects thereby expanding the ecosystem within which they operate and enhancing their likelihood of success
  • Challenges for which solutions and action have long been dormant or at an impasse are now progressing forward


Altus OCC has chosen to engage the community in a destination branding process that will enhance marketing and tourism efforts. The process will begin with a community meeting to discuss the overall purpose of the project, expected outcomes and ways to become engaged in the process.

Creative Oklahoma will assist in facilitating focus groups and administering interviews and surveys to gather broad-based input on the Altus brand and it’s unique positioning relative to other communities.

Once the branding process is complete, the Oklahoma Department of Tourism will assist with development and implementation of marketing strategies to promote increased tourism and local spending in Altus.


A small pocket park is being designed with help from students at the OU Institute for Quality Communities. The design will maximize use of space and provide green space downtown where games can be played and art displayed. The park is the only green space in the area and connects to a performance stage, farmers market, restaurants and a pub.

Locust Grove

Three priorities are being addressed by OCC Locust Grove:
  1. A downtown pocket park being designed by art students at the local high school as part of a contest.
  2. Enhanced destination branding and tourism promotion with the Oklahoma Department of Tourism.
  3. Community engagement in the securing and design of a physical space dedicated to showcasing local talent, teaching classes (art, poetry, etc.) and staging plays.


Pawhuska is currently working on three projects:
  1. Destination branding and marketing of Pawhuska.
  2. Support of the community and schools by offering additional learning opportunities related to culture, liberal arts, health/nutrition, trades and STEAM (both in school and in the community, e.g., summer camp).
  3. Through work with the Osage Nation, improving broadband access to the community.


OCC Okmulgee has established a nonprofit entity to support community engagement. They are working on three activities: a prayer walk with first responder thank you meal; three-on- three youth basketball tournament; and, a community clean-up day.


“The elbow” is an area of land adjacent to downtown Guthrie. At one time, the land was home to thriving neighborhoods. In the 1980’s, the bridge connecting downtown to the land collapsed and the city chose not to rebuild it. No one currently lives in “the elbow” which is now a large, empty green space. Many of the families that lived in the area were African American, and the city’s decision exacerbated racial tensions. The community is working with former residents and their families to tell the stories and honor the heritage of those whose homes were located on the land known as “the elbow.”

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