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Behind the Curtains at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center

May 4, 2023

Category:  Events

Have you ever been to our beloved Tulsa Performing Arts Center? It has a rich history and a community of people who work to attract art lovers across the Midwest. We sat with Amanda Nichols, Director of Communications, to discuss what the PAC brings to our city and region. 

Tulsa Performing Arts Center History 

The Tulsa Performing Arts Center is one of our most treasured Downtown Tulsa attractions. Built in the early 1970s with a combination of public and private funds, the TPAC opened its doors for the first time in 1977. It has four main theaters, a studio space, an art gallery (which houses a collection of 76 works of art), and a gorgeous reception hall. The TPAC regularly hosts events by 14 local performance groups, including Tulsa BalletTulsa OperaTulsa Symphony, Chamber Music Tulsa, Theatre Tulsa, American Theatre Company, Theatre North, and the TPAC Trust. Additionally, Celebrity Attractions has brought major headliners like Wicked, Hamilton, The Lion King, and more to the TPAC. 

In 2019, the Tulsa Performing Arts Center became an independent nonprofit (it was previously owned and operated by the City of Tulsa) and was put in the hands of the Tulsa Performing Arts Trust. Because of this change, the TPAC is now able to fundraise which allows them to pursue new goals and envision a broader future for the arts in Tulsa. 

The Heart of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center 

What is your favorite part of working at the TPAC? 

Amanda: I grew up really poor and didn't get to go see things like what happens in our building. And so being a part of figuring out how to include people who grow up like I grew up, and make sure that they have access to the arts as well, is important to me. I love that I have a team that is very committed to making sure that every kid, every person, gets to come in and enjoy that.

We do Any Given Child every year, where we bring in every kindergartener in Tulsa Public School, and we give them a free show. It's often the first time they've ever been in our building or seen a show. We also have the Imagination Series, where we have $6 tickets for family shows so that families can come and see these shows. I love working on a team that really prioritizes the entire community, and not just those who can afford to come to see the big Broadway shows.

We hope to continue to do things like the Orbit Arts Festival; we loved it and want to build on it. We also want to bring back Arts in the Air at Williams Green, and we have big plans that involve Tulsa Public Schools. Our team has so many great ideas; they are so creative that it's hard to keep up with them sometimes! We also want people to know more about our 2nd Street (theater) entrance that showcase many of our local Tulsa talents in its many theaters. We are working on having more programming in that area.

Part of the goal with breaking away from the City and becoming a nonprofit is that we can do a lot more fundraising to feed the community-focused side of what we do. We're always going to have Broadway shows because who doesn't want to see incredible shows like The Lion King? But we want to make sure that what we already have in our community is showcased as well. Celebrity Attractions, who brings those major shows to our city, also has a huge heart for the community and is so great at also working to make sure that those tickets are as affordable as they can be.

TPAC Tomorrow 

Why are art and theater important to a community? 

Amanda: So many reasons! From a business perspective, TPAC brings in an incredible amount of money to Downtown and to Tulsa as a whole. Hamilton is a great example: We had people coming from Chicago, Dallas, and other parts of the country because tickets were cheaper here. And even when they're not flying from other parts of the country, they often come from different parts of Oklahoma and surrounding states. So, they're paying for gas to get here or plane tickets to get here, and hotel rooms, and they're paying to dine out in our City, and many of them will go shopping the next day or spend time in our City.

The last time a study was done, Tulsa Nonprofit Arts and Culture industry sectors had a $228 million impact in our economy. Multiple studies have also shown that if you want to activate a community, a city, you build something that supports arts and culture because it will bring people to the community and bring investments. 

From a non-business perspective, arts bring people together. We're in a world where we're all fighting to have our voices heard, so TPAC is a space where everybody can come and be heard, be safe, and have their story told, tell their story. You know, not everything we have in our building is going to be for everybody, but there is something I think in our building that everybody can enjoy. And I think that's a really beautiful space and not something you see very often in non-arts-driven spaces. It's important for humanity to tell its stories; arts is the biggest way we do that.

Impacting Community 

What would you like Tulsans to know about the Tulsa Performing Arts Center? 

Amanda: Coming from being a part of the City of Tulsa, people have a view of TPAC as having bureaucratic red tape, but we're really just a nonprofit trying to make a difference and trying to showcase beautiful artwork. I love hearing from our community about our shortcomings because I have my own ideas about what we (at TPAC) need to work on and what we can do to improve. But I love hearing from the community about what they would like to see from TPAC.

I never want to be the kind of entity that forces itself on the community; I want it to be community-driven, community-built, and based on what the community wants it to be. It's their Tulsa Performing Arts Center. So, I want Tulsans to know they can always reach out, whether on Facebook, email, etc. We want to hear what you have to say.

It's a great place. I hope more Tulsans will find things to come and be interested in at TPAC. If they aren’t already coming, we’d love to know what they would like to see here, what speaks to them, and we can do to help amplify the arts in their lives.

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