Retiring Arts Council executive stresses economic value of arts education

Consider the experience of Suzanne Tate. The Oklahoma Arts Council’s retiring executive director has witnessed firsthand the impact of arts education in Oklahoma.

“(The Arts Council) can’t put arts programs in every single school in the state, so that’s been the challenge,” she said. “There’s so much need, but we don’t have the resources.”

Tate, who is retiring in November, said state arts funding is experiencing trying times. In the 2009 fiscal year, the council’s budget decreased 22 percent. The council received a 9-percent funding cut of government appropriations.

“A lot of crazy things that have happened this year, and that’s just one of the crazy things that have come out of it,” she said.

To combat this, Tate said the council constantly educates state legislators on the value of arts education. According to her, 80 percent of appropriations go back into the community in the form of grants. Another 10 percent of those funds go out in the form of services.

“The arts are an incredible economic factor providing jobs, providing dollars that come in from tourists who come to our museums and festivals,” she said. “The arts are a significant part of Oklahoma’s economy.”

Regardless of the cuts, Tate said the council is still grateful for both state support and help from public and private funds, even during a budget crunch.

“The mission of the council is to spread arts throughout the state and provide top quality experiences across the state,” said Kay Goebel, who has chaired of the state arts council. “Suzanne has been good to enhance that mission. She has an understanding of the value of the arts and the economic impact of the arts of cities large and small.”

Richard Ellwanger, chairman of the state Capitol Preservation Commission, said Tate is a “dedicated public servant” to the arts and education.

“The people of Oklahoma are in the forefront of her mind, the welfare of the people and how the arts can improve their lives,” Ellwanger said. “Studies will tell you that students who study art in school are much better achievers than those who don’t.”

With the council, Tate began an adult art class to spread art culture to every corner of Oklahoma. The class of 30 travels to different arts organizations statewide. When they return home, they implement what they’ve learned about the arts into their community’s education.

“As those organizations become stronger, then they can make the communities stronger,” Tate said. “At the same time, what we’re doing is building a core group of arts advocates. What it’s really going to take is people from all over the state that believe in the arts and know the importance of the arts, is to speak out and let their decision makers known.”

She said the Arts Council paired to offer arts classes such as drumming and mural painting with FACT, an outreach program started by the Oklahoma City Police Department to focus on gang prevention. Enrollment in the program skyrocketed to 35 children, just because of the arts program.

“Arts can really save kids lives,” Tate said.