Letters to the Editor: Feb. 11, 2014 

Not to be flippant, but I ask, “Why would we not?”

Creating and appreciating art is one of our most basic instincts and is one of the first steps any primitive people take toward becoming a civilized society. At the first breath of ease when we rise above sheer survival mode, we create art. We decorate our tools, our weapons, our housing, our clothing with the totems of our clan; we have a celebration, a feast, and we sing and dance and tell our story, the story of us.

The counterargument often asks, “If art is so important, why doesn’t the private market support it?” Actually, it does, but like so many other private industries, a little bit of stimulus, a small financial incentive gives a much-needed boost. To say the government supports the arts does not imply that it is the sole backer.

The public money spent on arts is leveraged many times over through private foundation grants, corporate sponsorship, individual donations, sales and admission fees, the end result stimulating economic activity.

You mentioned The Pollard Theatre in your article about public funding of the arts (News, Legislature, “Art funding cuts proposed,” Devon Green, Jan. 29, Oklahoma Gazette) by the Oklahoma Arts Council, so let me use us as an example. In 2011, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce made an economic impact study of the Pollard using a five-year average that included one of our best and one of our worst years on record. We received support from the Oklahoma Arts Council of approximately $45,000 each year, which leveraged into $908,000 in economic impact, or a twenty-fold return. We also provided six full-time jobs and, each year, hired nearly 100 actors, directors, musicians, designers and technicians on a show-by-show basis.

Our own marketing study last year surveyed 1,200 patrons and verified that our patrons shop (40 percent) and dine (80 percent) in Guthrie and spend money on lodging and fuel — and we’re just one of over 300 organizations and activities supported by OAC.

Theater is just one artform; let’s not forget music, dance, museums, galleries, festivals and working artists, all of which make us a culturally rich region.

Major corporations — employers — look for the presence of art and culture when deciding where they will locate. They know that access to the arts improves the quality of life and helps attract and retain young professionals, a skilled and educated workforce. They know that arts programming in the schools stimulates creative thinking skills and increases academic performance.

The OAC provides support and guidance for arts programming in our schools. It supports festivals, working artists and theater and dance companies across the state. It provides direction and assistance for emerging creative arts districts.

So, I wonder, do we want to shave less than a tenth of a percent off the state budget by eliminating these programs, or do we want to follow the lead of Rhode Island and Michigan, who are actually increasing their investment in the arts as a means to make their economies grow?

— Van French,
Managing Director, The Pollard Theatre Company
Guthrie

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Van French

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