EDITORIAL: Cutting state funding for the Oklahoma Arts Council would be a costly mistake
Arts education in Oklahoma is under fire in the state Legislature. A bill will be read for the first time in the House of Representatives on Feb. 4 that proposes ending state allocations to the Oklahoma Arts Council.
As the primary state agency concerned with art and music in Oklahoma, the council is uniquely positioned to provide assistance to a wide variety of programs that directly benefit students and citizens across the state.
The council is a vital part of Oklahoma’s cultural and civic life. Legislators must continue funding the council to maintain the vital tool for art education and engagement.
The bill, which is being introduced by Rep. Josh Cockroft, (R-Tecumseh), would end funding to the council over the next four years.
The council is a state agency that was formed in 1965 and renamed the Oklahoma Arts Council in 1996. As a state agency, the council does not raise its own funding and relies on state funding allocations, according to a statement about the bill on the council’s website.
The council gets 85 percent, or $4 million, of its budget directly from state appropriations, said Joel Gavin, the council’s director of marketing and communications. The rest of the budget is funded through the National Endowment for the Arts.
Loss of these funds likely would shut down the council permanently. The only other option would be to raise private donations for the program, which would be extremely difficult, said Erinn Gavaghan, executive director of the Norman Arts Council.
In defending the bill in the Norman Transcript, Cockroft stated he wants to funnel more state money toward education, but the primary purpose of the council is arts education.
The council is involved in dozens of programs to support the arts including grant and education programs. The council puts on the Oklahoma Arts Conference, a forum for Oklahoma artists to interact with each other.
The council has programs in 750 schools, Gavin said. The council also assists schools seeking other grant money.
One of the schools the council works with is OU. The council already has provided funding this year for two programs through the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. One program, the pARTner project, brings 1,125 Norman Public Schools fourth graders to the museum for interactive tours and activities.
Not only is the council involved in arts education directly, it assists in funding education through outside sources. Funding cuts to the council would reduce subsidy sources that offset costs to taxpayers.
Schools aided by the council’s programs receive $9 for every $1 invested in the council’s budget, according to the council’s website.
Many of the grants programs receive through the council are based on matching funds — the council uses state funds to help raise funds from private donors, Gavin said.
Federal funding also is tied to state funding. The National Endowment for the Arts makes up the other portion of the council’s budget. The national endowment must be given to state arts councils that meet certain requirements. Cutting state funds also would cut off national funds.
If Cockroft were concerned about education funding, he would invest more in efforts to assists schools in receiving outside grants.
The council also helps stimulate local commerce through programs like 2nd Friday Circuit of Art in Norman, a program to promote participation in art exhibits and musical performances.
The impact of the arts on Oklahoma’s economy is significant. Arts organizations have a $314 million impact on the state’s economy and generate $29 million in tax revenue, according to a 2010 study by Americans for the Arts.
Beyond the monetary impacts, arts programs provide incalculable benefits to daily life in Oklahoma. The Norman Music Festival receives funding from the council. We at The Daily can’t imagine spring without it.
With the development of downtown and other areas in Oklahoma City and around the state, it is increasingly important for Oklahoma to support the arts publicly and privately.
Please ask your state representative to oppose the bill and support the Oklahoma economy, education and the arts.