Oklahomans for the Arts, an arts advocacy organization, is leading initiatives across the state in a day of activism May 7 at the state Capitol. Groups from across the state that receive public funds also will share experiences about the far-reaching impact of arts programs.
“You’ve got such a wide variety of groups — you begin to get a sense of the Oklahoma Arts Council and how critical their funding is — it touches every part of the state,” said Jennifer James, director of Oklahomans for the Arts.
Dozens of organizations that receive state funding for arts programs — including Oklahoma City Ballet, Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, Norman Arts Council, OKC Philharmonic and Red Earth Inc. — will fill the fourth-floor rotunda next Wednesday to help educate lawmakers about the importance of continued public support.
The event starts at 9 a.m. with a kickoff by co-chairs Julia Kirt, new executive director of Oklahomans for the Arts and former longtime executive director of Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition (OVAC), and Ken Busby, executive director of Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa. Jim Tolbert, chairman of Oklahomans for the Arts, will join them. There will be more than 30 organizations with informational booths and at least 100 advocates making rounds and talking with legislators.
The public is welcome, but James said the legislators are the target audience.
“We’re only in our third year, but I would like to say that it’s a colorful event that makes a big statement,” she said.
The organizations hope the event will entice legislators to talk with their constituents about arts funding. When advocates talk about the reason our Legislature seems committed to cutting arts funding, the answer is lack of knowledge.
In a previous interview about legislators’ willingness to cut funding for arts programs, James said, “[The legislators] are not on the ground, seeing the impact of these programs.”
Earlier in the year, when legislation was on the table to cut Oklahoma Arts Council funding, the advocates who stood up and made their voices heard managed to change legislators’ minds. This event focuses not only on current and proposed legislation but also on future legislation.
“We also want them [state lawmakers] to get an idea of the economy of it and how broad the influence [is],” James said.
An example of the bigger picture is how the city of Guthrie has grown due to seed funding for smaller arts projects. The Pollard Theatre has long been the cornerstone of a sleepy downtown that has been experiencing a revitalization over the past decade. State funds help keep its doors open, which helps draw in additional festival, tourism and business revenue.
Now is the time for advocates to stress the impact of programs like House Bill 2580, which extends the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program. The bill will go in front of the state Senate during its next session.