The Norman Transcript

April 2, 2013

Increase public funding for arts in Norman

By Norman Hammon
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Today, Norman residents have an opportunity to increase local public funding for the arts with a simple “yes” vote.

It is so easy to take the arts in Norman for granted.

Arts programs are everywhere, something Norman residents take as “given” in our community. The weekly concerts of Summer Breeze and Winter Wind, the galleries and museum exhibits of the Second Friday Arts Walk, the drama and comedy of the Sooner Theatre and the multitude of festivals from April through July would make anyone think of Norman as a “City of the Arts.”

In-point-of-fact, some might be surprised to learn that Norman has as many arts programs as other cities several times its size. For example, 25 member arts organizations are on the Norman Arts Roundtable and only 20 members are on the Allied Arts in Oklahoma City. 

How is Norman able to produce a range of high-caliber arts programs equivalent to those of a city three times its population?

One major factor is that 33 years ago, in the summer of 1980, leaders in the arts, business and recreational sectors of our community came together and proposed a visionary idea — a hospitality tax (4 percent) collected by area hotels to support development in the arts, tourism and parks. It was, and still is, visionary because a major part of the funding was earmarked for the arts and not just tourism or economic development, as in other major cities.

For more than three decades, this unique public support for the arts has been a partner in underwriting a diverse range of artistic programs.

Today’s vote proposes to raise this same hotel/motel tax from 4 percent to 5 percent (still below similar taxes in Oklahoma City and Tulsa). If passed, the revenue will mean an additional $60,000 or more in funding for the Norman Arts Council (NAC) to then redistribute through its grant programs to Norman organizations.

The benefits of this type of public support are numerous and far-reaching, according to a 2010 Norman Arts Council Economic Impact Study:

· Annual combined estimated audiences from all arts activities: 974,000

· Regional marketing audiences for Norman arts programs /events: 1.4 million

· Funds matching NAC hotel-motel grant funds: $1.2 million

· Jobs created: 250 (full/part time)

· Artists presented at Norman programs/events: 2,000

 Even more benefit can be found in Norman’s diverse and successful festivals. The Medieval Fair, the Norman Music Festival, May Fair, Jazz in June, Groovefest and the Midsummer Night Fair attract tens of thousands of visitors each year. The Medieval Fair alone attracts an audience of more than 350,000, with Jazz in June and the Norman Music Festival attracting well over 50,000 each.

Thousands of these audience members are visitors from other communities, the state and even the nation. These visitors enrich our local economy and sales tax base with their purchases while in our community.

So, to summarize, the Norman Hotel/Motel Tax Grant Fund — derived from a tax paid by visitors to local hotels — distributes grants to more than two dozen arts organizations that produce programming and events for almost one million people annually. These activities not only enrich the culture of our community but have a substantial, positive economic impact as well.

It stands as a tribute to the visionaries who created this funding 33 years ago, funding that has been of benefit to our community in so many ways over those decades.

Your “yes” vote to increase the hotel-motel tax to 5 percent will provide more funding for the arts of our community to continue their good works. 

Norman H. Hammon is the director of development for Jazz in June, as well as a freelance writer based in Norman. In 1980, he was a young arts administrator who worked in the campaign for the passage of the hotel-motel tax. In 1981-1982, while serving on the Norman City Council, he witnessed the first appropriations of these funds and he was a founding member of the Norman Arts Roundtable.

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