Creative Oklahoma director eyes world forum in 2010

Published: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 7:00 am

The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY - In Tom Searls' job, he might be rubbing elbows with the Flaming Lips one day and touting creative approaches for economic development to business leaders the next.

Searls, president and CEO of Creative Oklahoma Inc., leads the nonprofit organization, which is focused on creativity and innovation in commerce, culture and education in the state.

The project started about three years ago and has been instrumental in many projects, from parades to robot-building contests, but has largely operated in the background.

Searls wants to bring the organization front and center with plans to host the 2010 Creativity World Forum in Oklahoma City in November 2010.

"One of my challenges is to help the public understand who we are, what we're doing and why we're doing it," Searls said.

Oklahoma was selected as the site for the yearly forum after a delegation from the state made a presentation at the creative forum in Antwerp, Belgium in 2008.

Susan McCalmont, executive director of the Kirkpatrick Foundation and vice chairwoman for CO, began working on developing the Oklahoma organization in 2004 and has continued to establish it as a 501 (c)3. She said when Oklahoma was selected as the site for the forum, the group knew it would need to have a strong leader in place.

"Tom had all of the qualifications we really needed," she said. "This position is all about communication."

Searls said the forum is expected to cost $1.5 million. The organization is seeking funding from public and private donations to put on the weeklong event for 1,500 attendees from around the world.

The organization is the first nonprofit in the nation dedicated to transforming a state through creativity. Oklahoma is the only official international creative district in the country.

Searls said there is so much untapped creativity in the state that the initiative must identify those individuals and businesses that can help the state grow and prepare the next generation for jobs that don't exist yet.

Several initiatives already are under way, including a filmed series on creative Oklahomans and the Academy of Contemporary Music, which is set to open this fall in Bricktown. The music academy is part of a program based in England to provide music industry training to students.

The organization also has been involved in events around the state, including the deadCenter Film Festival, the Ghouls Gone Wild Parade and educational endeavors like the FIRST Robotics competition.

As Oklahoma prepares to be on the world stage next year for the forum, Searls said, he is continuing to help people to understand the purpose and scope of the organization from his downtown Oklahoma City offices. He is pleased with progress so far but also is looking beyond the world forum in 2010.

"We've got to think of new ways to do business and ready children for the future work force," he said. "This organization has accomplished a lot over the past three years."

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