The Norman Transcript

January 25, 2014

Arts funds under debate

By Hannah Cruz
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — For the second year in a row, a bill filed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives proposes all funding to the Oklahoma Arts Council be eliminated.

The legislation, HB 2850, written by state Rep. Dan Fisher, R-Yukon, proposes to reduce state government funding to the OAC each fiscal year by 25 percent, eventually ending the appropriation entirely by June 2018.

The first reading is scheduled for Feb. 3. If passed, the act will become effective July 1.

Fisher was unavailable for comment at press time.

A similar bill was proposed in 2013, written by state Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Tecumseh. Last year’s legislation, HB 1895, was proposed to reduce state government funding to the OAC each fiscal year by 25 percent, eventually ending the appropriation in 2017. The bill did not pass.

According to the OAC website, the organization receives a state appropriation of $4 million — less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the state budget, with 80 percent of funding going directly to communities across the state. A study released in 2010 sighted on the website shows those funds support Oklahoma’s $314.8 million nonprofit arts and cultural industry and more than 10,000 jobs. The industry generates $29 million in state and local tax revenue.

Joel Gavin, OAC director of marketing and communications, said passage of the bill would bring an end to the OAC’s nearly 50 years of supporting and developing Oklahoma’s arts and cultural industry.

“In general, state legislators are supportive of our work, understanding the impact of our more than 500 grants to over 300 organizations and schools in communities statewide as well as our professional development services,” Gavin said.

“Legislators are supportive because they understand the value of our work and the arts to Oklahoma’s ability to compete for businesses and a skilled, creative work force. They are also responsive to their constituents. When a similar bill was filed last year, we experienced an outpouring of support for our agency by people in communities across the state.”

In 2013, the OAC granted funds to many Norman arts organizations, including Children’s Arts Network; Cimarron Circuit Opera Company; Dreamer Concepts Foundation; Jacobson Foundation; Jazz in June; Norman Arts Council; Norman Ballet Company; Norman Community Choral Society; Norman Firehouse Art Center; Norman Public School District’s Cleveland, Lakeview and Truman elementaries; Performing Arts Studio; Pioneer Library System Foundation; Sooner Theatre of Norman; and the Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma.

These grants totaled more than $200,000.

Erinn Gavaghan, Norman Arts Council executive director, said NAC receives approximately $30,000 in grants from the OAC annually. Those funds go to NAC’s 2nd Friday Circuit of Art, an education partnership program between Norman Public School District and Firehouse Art Center, and adult writing workshops.

Without the OAC funding, Gavaghan said NAC’s budget would receive a huge hit.

“I think it would really be a hit to some of the morale of the art’s community and that’s hard to bounce back from,” she said. “When it seems like your state isn’t supportive of the arts community — I think that’s something that isn’t easy to overcome.”

Gavaghan said Norman arts organizations rely on funding from the OAC, the city’s transient guest room tax and donations from local businesses and residents.

For every dollar put into the arts — whether from public or private funding — the arts create an $8 return in investment, Gavaghan said, according to a formula provided by Oklahomans for the Arts.

“It gets to be quite an impressive number, and that’s just our community,” Gavaghan said. “It’s a huge business. It means so much to the entire state.”

Unfortunately, Gavaghan said relying on alternative funding simply isn’t enough for most arts organizations. The OAC, for example, receives grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. A part of the conditions for NEA funding a state arts council is that the organization receives state appropriations. If the OAC then turns to private funding, Gavaghan said, it will be in direct competition with the very organizations they are attempting to fund.

Norman H. Hammon, Jazz in June director of development, said the OAC makes up about 20 percent of Jazz in June’s budget. The lack of funding would be detrimental, he said, and in “festival terms” would mean eliminating one day of programming from the three-day music festival.

Though the organization as a whole would likely survive without funding from the OAC, Hammon said many smaller organizations in more rural communities depend on the funding. Eliminating the funding could mean wiping out entire projects, in turn, making the arts less accessible to a broader range of people.

“If the arts are going to be accessible and they’re going to be for everyone, then sources of funding that represent everyone have to be in the mix,” Hammon said. “It’s the democratization of art. What we had prior to 1964, with the establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts, was art for those who could pay for it. What we have today is a whole myriad of organizations of people who are served by that art. Some can’t afford to pay, but that’s not the important part, the important part is it’s there for them.”

For more information on how the arts impact the state and communities, visit

Hannah Cruz


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