Here a Wildcat, there a Wildcat, everywhere a Wildcat.
If all goes well, there will be no shortage of Wildcats, big and small, populating this town for Experience Oxford on Friday, April 20 through Sunday, April 22.
Last week, a group comprised of local business owners, concerned citizens and government officials gathered at downtown’s You, Me, and Bubble Tea to share information, discuss ideas and make suggestions for this new event designed to promote local businesses.
“It’s not just about downtown. It’s (for) all of Oxford,” explained Cathy Darling, who co-owns You, Me, and Bubble Tea with Stacey Beane. “We’re a community. We all should work together. And that’s our goal.”
Darling and Beane are spearheading the organization of this event. The purpose of Experience Oxford is to elevate public awareness about the wide range of goods and services available in the village and township by encouraging folks to explore their diverse business community.
Experience Oxford is designed to be a stand-alone happening. “We wanted to create an event that didn’t fall on the same day as other people’s events,” Beane said.
It’s also meant to offer something different than the usual litany of parades, festivals, carnivals, etc.
“I think sometimes people can get stuck in the past and not be open to change,” Beane said. “We’d like to see some change because we need some change.”
The two main elements of Experience Oxford will be the Wildcat Walk and the “Find the Wildcat” passports.
The Wildcat Walk will consist of filling the community with as many fiberglass Wildcat statues as possible. “They’ll be strategically placed throughout Oxford,” Darling said.
With a height of 30 inches and a length of 48 inches, each statue will serve as a blank canvas to be painted or otherwise decorated by local artists looking to express themselves and display their work.
“We would like to see the artists be local because we want to show off what we have,” Beane said. “Oxford has a lot of talent.”
The statues are intended to serve as colorful and unique attractions. It’s hoped that visitors will come to view them, photograph them and take a peek inside the surrounding businesses to see what each has to offer.
The statues will be purchased from Cowpainters, LLC, based in Chicago, Illinois. Open since late 1999, the company specializes in fiberglass animals for community art projects. Cowpainters’ current inventory includes more than 350 fiberglass animals and objects. The company has been involved in more than 575 public art projects.
Sponsors to cover the cost of the statues are being sought. They can be individuals, businesses, nonprofit organizations, even building owners and their tenants.
Statue prices vary depending upon the number ordered. It ranges from $780 each if nine or less are purchased to $750 each for 50 or more. Shipping is extra.
The statues will remain in place through September, at which point the public will be given an opportunity to meet the artists and sponsors, and purchase the Wildcats via a charity auction.
Although participation in the Wildcat Walk is encouraged, it is not mandatory.
“It’s a choice,” Darling explained. “It’s not something that every business has to do. This is an option.”
Businesses are also welcome to participate in the “Find the Wildcat” passport program, a special activity for kids.
Each kid will be given an Oxford passport, then they’ll visit participating businesses to find the little cardboard Wildcat located inside each establishment and get their passport stamped. Kids will turn in their marked passports to receive small prizes and be entered in drawings.
“This is something that will run all summer, so it keeps people coming back into town,” Beane said.
The idea is parents will visit the businesses with their kids, look around and do some shopping.
All businesses have to do to participate in the passport program is register. There is absolutely no cost to be involved.
“This is your free option,” Beane said. “It doesn’t require you to offer a coupon, offer a special, give a freebie – nothing like that. It just brings business into your store.”
During Experience Oxford, participating businesses will be asked to stay open certain hours. They are Friday, April 20 from 5-9 p.m.; Saturday, April 21 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, April 22 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We need to make sure they’re open, so people can actually see what they’re all about,” Darling said.
Local performers, musicians, artists, magicians, face-painters, clowns, jugglers, caricaturists, etc. are all invited to show off their talents on the streets of downtown Oxford during the three-day event.
“We’re not opposed to bringing people from outside (Oxford) in, but we have so much local talent, it seems crazy to not use what we have,” Beane said. “We would like to see them (positioned) throughout the downtown area.”
Again, the idea is to use the street entertainment to motivate visitors to roam around the entire business district, instead of just staying in certain areas. “We love concerts in the park in the summer, but it keeps people in the park,” Beane noted.
Other facets being planned for the Experience Oxford weekend include special vendor areas in the downtown for local home-based businesses and a shuttle service to transport folks to places such as the Oxford Mills shopping center and Legacy 925.
Those interested in learning more about Experience Oxford or participating are encouraged to send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Facebook page entitled “Experience Oxford” has also been established.
“The more the word gets out, the better – the more successful it’s going to be for everybody,” Beane said.
Links to on-line registration and sponsorship forms are available on the Facebook page.
“This way people don’t have to worry about getting a form and mailing it in,” Beane said. “The deadline for the sponsorships is March 1. That way we have time to get the cats here.”