Commentary: Arts funding isn’t optional 

Julia Kirt, new executive director fo Oklahomans for the Arts, in the Oklahoma State Art Collection gallery at the State Capitol.  mh
  • Julia Kirt, new executive director fo Oklahomans for the Arts, in the Oklahoma State Art Collection gallery at the State Capitol. mh

Last week, more than 1,000 advocates converged on the State Capitol for Oklahoma Arts Day. As our state leaders negotiate the priorities of our shared budget, this record number of attendees declared the value of arts and culture to our state.

To truly build a state where all participate in and benefit from the arts, we need more voices to join ours.

Specifically, we ask for stronger arts education and improved funding for the Oklahoma Arts Council as an independent state agency. Because we know the arts and culture industry positively impacts education, community and the economy across the state, we champion the state agency for arts and culture, the 50-year-old Oklahoma Arts Council.

As we prepared for Arts Day, we learned that some legislative leaders are again proposing the consolidation of the Oklahoma Arts Council into another agency.

The Oklahoma Arts Council supports the arts and culture industry statewide with seed funding, irreplaceable leadership development and model education programs. Public funding for the arts generates strong return on investment with a $1 to $14 public to private match and an $8 return in tax revenue on each $1 granted. Investing in the arts should be part of our economic recovery.

Truly statewide, last year, Oklahoma Arts Council funded programs in 89 communities in 50 counties through schools, local governments and nonprofit organizations. Additionally, it supports and enriches school and student learning. Last year, it helped 142,593 youth participate in community-based arts activities. Consolidation of the Oklahoma Arts Council does not make sense for the well-being of our communities and young people.

Clear data show arts funding will be reduced if the Oklahoma Arts Council is consolidated. Other states that have consolidated their art agency have lost 20-60 percent of funding within four years. Consolidated agencies don’t just lose staff; they lose programs and funding as well. Most recently, the consolidated Kansas arts agency lost its federal funding and almost all its staff and programs.

Oklahoma benefits by more than $1 million in federal and regional funding and services. Consolidation would not save money. The Oklahoma Arts Council is very efficiently administered with a very low ratio of overhead, using only 8 percent of its budget on administration. Plus the agency makes up less than 0.05 percent of the state’s budget. Cuts or consolidation of such a small agency will not close the budget gap.

As advocates, consolidation would reduce our ability to lobby for community needs. If the agency becomes a department, the budget, goals and strategic plans will no longer be as available and could be subsumed by a divergent mission. The Oklahoma Arts Council’s distinct mission includes community development, arts and culture industry growth and irreplaceable education outcomes.

Especially when budgets for education are so stretched and arts education is being cut back, we need resources for students to experience and participate in the arts.

Consolidation and cuts to the Oklahoma Arts Council will negatively impact communities and students for many years to come. We strongly object to consolidating our state art agency, as it will limit community arts and arts education across the state.

If you agree, lawmakers need to hear from you now so that every Oklahoman can experience and benefit from the arts.

Julia Kirt serves as executive director of Oklahomans for the Arts, a statewide advocacy organization. | Photo provided

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Julia Kirt

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