HB2850 Threatens Oklahoma Arts Council’s Future
OKLAHOMA CITY — — A bill has been filed by a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives to eliminate all funding to the Oklahoma Arts Council by July 1, 2017, at a rate of at least 25 percent a year.
The Oklahoma Arts Council is a state agency that provides funding to arts organizations, schools and tribal governments across the state. Last year, their state appropriation was about $4 million, an amount that represents less than 1/10th of 1 percent of the entire state budget.
“More than 80 percent of the Oklahoma Arts Council’s appropriation is returned to Oklahoma communities every year through matching grants to arts organizations and schools,” said Jennifer James, the Executive Director of Oklahomans for the Arts, an organization that formally advocates for the Oklahoma Arts Council. “The remaining 20 percent of OAC’s appropriation is invested in programs that advance Oklahoma art and culture industry. This includes the popular Leadership Arts program, an intensive training and education program that is equipping local arts leaders for competition and innovation.”
In addition, the Oklahoma Arts Council, receives about $700,000 in federal funding every year for additional grant-making. Last year, 56 percent of the organization’s grant awards went to rural communities in Oklahoma where access to arts education and arts programming is limited.
According to James, a statewide campaign has been launched to defeat HB 2850. “We are working in every corner of the state to defeat this legislation,” James said. “We are talking with legislators in every district about the value of public funding for the arts and the consequences to their communities if this funding is lost.”
Oklahomans for the Arts is one of 37 state arts advocacy organization nationwide. It was launched in 2011, by Oklahoma business leaders who were concerned about growing challenges to public funding for the arts in Oklahoma. Last year, HB1895 threatened to shutter the Oklahoma Arts Council. A massive outpouring of support led to its defeat before the formal legislative session began. Supporters are hoping for a similar response this year to HB2850.
“It is critical for arts educators, artists and other advocates for community arts and culture to contact their legislators about HB2850,” James said. “Although we are dealing with a significant budget shortfall this year, the investment our legislators make in the arts yields an 8 to 1 return. For every $1 of public funding for the arts, there is $8 in economic activity. Very few state agencies can claim they actually make the state money, but the Oklahoma Arts Council can.
On the Oklahoma Arts Council
“In Oklahoma, public funding for the arts has seeded innovative ideas before they reached critical mass,” James explained. “This is the true hallmark of public funding for the arts. OAC fully vets the ideas, creators and organizers making it easier for the private sector to invest in new arts and cultural projects.”
“The Oklahoma Arts Council has been an early investor in so many ideas and programs that went on to become major successes that catapulted Oklahoma onto the national scene. These include, but are not limited to Red Earth and the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. We need someone at the state level pushing these things forward.
On Site Selectors
“When arts council funding gets cuts, innovation hits a road block, James said. “Fighting against public funding for the arts is counterintuitive. We want to increase arts and culture in Oklahoma so we keep our strong position on the radar, particularly for people like site selectors who examine communities and recommend them to their clients.”
“We create decision-makers through the election process,” James said. “But, our obligation as citizens does not end in the voting booth. Legislators are very busy people with many issues competing for their attention. We have an obligation to advocate to them for the kind of government we want and need.”
Board of Directors, Oklahomans for the Arts
James R. Tolbert III, Chair
Governor Bill Anoatubby
Joy Reed Belt
C. Kendric Fergeson
Michael E. Joseph
P. Vincent LoVoi
William Von Glahn
Dr. Peggy Wisdom
Jennifer James, APR, Director
Oklahomans for the Arts
428 W. California
Oklahoma City, OK 73102