Oklahoma City businessman Jim Tolbert is set to lead the new group, Oklahomans for the Arts, and is joined by public relations executive Kym Koch Thompson and Tulsa arts advocate and volunteer Linda Frazier.

According to the founders, the main goal of the group is to inform people about the economic importance of art in the state of Oklahoma and to advocate for public funding of art.

“Arts and culture are major components of any thriving economic center,” Tolbert said in a statement. “We have demonstrated for years how paramount both are to economic development.”

Currently, the Oklahoma Arts Council sees an annual appropriation of $4 million. The state agency then grants nearly 90 percent of this funding to communities in 77 counties across the state. According to a statement by Suzanne Tate, Oklahoma Arts Council’s executive director, it provides critical support to rural and urban arts organizations.

However, Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders recently announced a proposed budget cut of 9 percent to the Oklahoma Arts Council. According to the signed agreement that takes effect July 1, the budget is down a total of 22 percent since fiscal year 2009. The reduction compares to cuts of 3 to 7 percent proposed for most agencies.

Thompson, who is also a chairperson on the arts council, mentioned the reduction in funds as potentially very damaging, with large cuts to certain events being a real possibility.

“I understand the budget situation and this organization understands the budget situation,” Thompson said. “We just would have liked to have seen
the same types of cuts as other agencies received, because we know that
a 9 percent cut is going to hurt the agencies that the Oklahoma Arts
Council funds.”

Thompson said that it is crucial for Oklahomans to understand the economic value of the arts. She feels that even if someone doesn’t appreciate the aesthetic value of art, they should realize what it can do for the economy.

“People (who) would rather go to the basketball game than the ballet need to know that the public funding of the arts still has a significant economic impact on that local economy and the state economy,” she said.

According to Thompson, the arts drive more than 4,600 businesses and 22,000 jobs in the state, attracting businesses to the state and increasing tourism dollars.

Thompson said assigning numbers to the value of art will be a great step with their program, but she does recognize it could be difficult.

“I’d love to see us change the mindset,” she said. “I would like to have every Oklahoman know the economic value of any arts organization in their town or city.”

For more information, visit oklahomansforthearts.org.

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