Oxford is a city with a rich cultural history. Art makes our lives better, as it is a reflection of our reality, our hopes and our dreams. Investing in art and culture is an investment in the creativity of the city itself. I believe our decisions regarding local development at all levels and by all sectors should be based on an understanding of cultural – not just economic and environmental – impact.
When I was hired in June of 1995 to be the Director of the Oxford Tourism Council, which is now called Visit Oxford, I immediately began planning a festival to promote what Oxford did best – music, food and art. Twenty-five years later, the Double Decker Arts Festival is still celebrating Oxford’s music, food and art scene, and bringing in more than 60,000 visitors to downtown Oxford.
Partnerships have been and will continue to be key as we find ways to create public art and cultural events for our citizens and visitors. The City of Oxford and Visit Oxford in partnership with the University of Mississippi and the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council hosts concerts, theater productions, exhibits, readings, lectures and conferences that attract people from around the world. Utilizing Oxford’s abundant cultural resources including talented performers, writers, visual artists, filmmakers and educators, Oxford and Lafayette County will continue to seek to grow the events that contribute to Oxford being named as one of “The 100 Best Small Towns in America.”
From the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival, the University of Mississippi’s Summer Sunset Series featuring outdoor entertainment, parades, readings and signings at internationally famous Square Books, Thacker Mountain Radio Show, Fiber Festival, Oxford Film Festival, two international literary conferences, a sculpture trail, food and music symposiums and events at the Gertrude C. Ford Center and live music events at venues across the community – Oxford remains an arts and culture mecca.
As we held community meetings and visited with citizens through our Vision 2037 process, it was reinforced that one of the things citizens treasure about Oxford is our creative makeup. As Mayor, I have looked for opportunities to grow our creative community by encouraging opportunities for people to showcase their talents through performances and public art.
Oxford has welcomed its first large scale outdoor murals recently thanks to Sneed’s Ace Hardware and owner David Shaw and Oxford Canteen and owner Corbin Evans, and there are plans underway for several more in the coming year. We are finding ways to facilitate public art placed by business owners and finding grant and tourism funds to increase public art in city owned spaces. Most recently, we have facilitated the Shelter Art Show showcasing work by local artists at our OUT bus stops. This has brightened bus stops across town, and given us an opportunity to spotlight our local artists.
We have most recently received bids for a large-scale sculpture to be located in the roundabout at Belk Boulevard and South Lamar Boulevard. A local artist, Earl Dismuke, was selected to design and create this piece. A new mural has been commissioned and will be created in the coming months behind City Hall. It will be a “Greetings from Oxford” mural. These projects are being funded with 2% tourism tax funds and a grant from the North Mississippi Hills Alliance.
Arts and culture brought Oxford to the table in the early 1990’s. It is my job to remember and embrace that culture moving forward, and I take that job personally.