A pair of local restaurateurs, both of them leaders in the revitalization of downtown Tulsa and one of them a city councilor, are devising a new monthly “town hall” concept aimed at offering Tulsa citizens a better face-to-face option in expressing their views.
The first event will be held in July at Soundpony, a bar in the Brady Arts District, giving some explanation to the “Dive Bar Town Hall” moniker for the plan.
“I think people feel they don’t have access to the people who control how Tulsa is run, and the great thing about a ‘dive bar’ is that you can have people sitting together, as human beings, talking together, perhaps in a different kind of conversation,” said Blake Ewing, a co-founder of the concept.
Ewing is both a Tulsa city councilor and owner of multiple downtown establishments, and he’s being joined in forming the town-hall concept by Elliot Nelson, who owns and operates several downtown eateries.
Ewing said the goal is to put Tulsans in front of “leaders and influencers” who, given a unique opportunity to listen to their concerns, might be able to turn ideas into action.
The first Dive Bar Town Hall is scheduled for 6 p.m. July 15 at Soundpony, 409 N. Main St. Ewing and Nelson have determined that the demand for a vibrant arts scene in Tulsa will be the night’s subject of discussion.
The needs of the arts community have been a hot topic in recent months. Proposed city of Tulsa budget cuts had called for the closing of a longtime municipal theater, the termination of multiple Performing Arts Center staffers and the reassignment of other employees.
Municipal funding may be found to keep Henthorne Theater operating in a different form for the next year and save some of those positions, but it appears that some level of private funding will be necessary to continue these operations in the future, some city leaders have said.
The Dive Bar Town Hall plan comes three weeks after Ewing organized a similar event with Tulsa-area food truck owners who were upset with ideas about how to regulate their operations.
That served as an inspiration for the new concept, he said.
“It think that was a huge success because there was a lot of mistrust there,” Ewing said. “Given the opportunity to hash that out, I think people felt they were heard. I think people who came in scowling and unhappy left there feeling pretty good, and that we had done right by them.”
The Dive Bar Town Hall plan is to cover a different topic each month, Ewing said, with those in attendance able to voice their desires for future topics.
“While it will be the arts to begin with, the next month might be about downtown Tulsa, and we might bring in some CEOs from large companies, someone from the Chamber of Commerce, some downtown business owners” to the event, he said as an example.
He hopes the Dive Bar Town Hall concept can flip the idea of what his Tulsa City Council meetings have to offer.
“When we meet as the City Council, that tends to be more of a crowd listening while (the councilors) are talking,” Ewing said.
“I hope this can be the opposite of that, with the people talking, and it’s the leaders who are listening.
“Instead of what (council meetings) are, which can be watching PowerPoint presentations that are boring,” he said, “let’s sit down on some bar stools and talk.”