OXFORD_SEPT2

The Oxford American is transforming its new buildings in Little Rock’s burgeoning South Main Street (SOMA) district into a home for diverse arts programming where people can experience the variety of culture that its award-winning magazine has documented since 1992. The space will include a restaurant that will present the full breadth and depth of southern culinary culture. Accompanying the food will be nightly cultural programming that will feature the best of Southern arts and culture across a variety of formats including literature, music, film, art, drama and food. The Oxford American will use its own connections and expertise to create national-caliber programs featuring famous and notable artistic personalities, but these high-level programs will be interspersed on a day-to-day basis with the community-oriented programming developed through partnerships with local organizations and institutions. The Oxford American will also outfit this space with recording (audio and video) equipment that will allow all of the programming to be live-streamed over the organization’s website as well as recorded for podcasts, videos and other presentations. As a result, the programming will be viewed and appreciated by people all over the world.

ArtPlace spoke with Warwick Sabin, the publisher of The Oxford American, about their project and the challenges it presents to their organization.

ARTPLACE: Is there a new challenge that engaging in creative placemaking presents for you, your organization and the artists who work with you? Are there new skills required?

SABIN: This new engagement definitely presents new challenges for our organization. However, we see creative placemaking as a major opportunity to extend our activities as the print media industry experiences its dramatic evolution. Beyond transitioning content delivery from paper to digital, we already have been reaching new audiences through innovative programming that is a natural outgrowth of what is presented in our magazine. From literary readings to music concerts to culinary presentations to symposia and conferences, we have been actively transforming The Oxford American into a cultural institution. The major challenge as we prepare to open South on Main is transitioning from occasional events to an intensive daily schedule of programming. In effect, The OA will become as much a cultural venue as a magazine, and that will require full-time attention and additional personnel. From my perspective, South on Main will be operate very much as the magazine currently does. It will have a program director who recruits talent and organizes content, just as the editor of our magazine already does. Our goal is to share resources between the magazine and South on Main in a way that complements both activities.

ARTPLACE: What do you have to do really (really) well to achieve success with your initiative?

SABIN: For our initiative to be successful, we will have to be very thoughtful and sensitive about the programming we present in our new venue. It has to be diverse enough to appeal to broad audiences and challenging enough to earn critical respect. We also want to feature new voices and offer a platform for grass-roots arts development while also preserving the quality and excellence that is expected from The Oxford American’s brand and reputation. We are generally able to strike this balance in the pages of our magazine, but we need to translate that really (really) well to our live programming at South on Main.

ARTPLACE: How do you expect the community to change as a result?

SABIN: We expect our community to develop a more vibrant cultural life because local artists and arts organizations will have the opportunity to showcase their work to a larger audience. Furthermore, we expect to attract more attention and support to the arts in Little Rock and Arkansas by spotlighting the work that is taking place here. By putting our community on the map as a cultural destination and providing a place for the community to coalesce around local artists, arts appreciation and development can only increase.

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