Woodward, Okla. —
A bill that would eventually eliminate state funding to the Oklahoma Arts Council has been filed by State Rep. Dan Fisher.
The legislation, HB 2850, would cut state funding 25 percent each year, beginning with the 2015 fiscal year and ending in 2018.
Fisher represents District 60, which includes Caddo and Canadian counties.
The bill says that as state funds are reduced and eventually eliminated, the Oklahoma Arts Council shall secure proceeds from other sources, such as “the sale of any materials and items, payments received pursuant to a lease or gifts, grants, contributions or donations from any person, firm, corporation, group of persons, governmental source or a municipality or other political subdivision of this state an amount of funds that is equal to or exceeds the amount that appropriations are reduced each fiscal year.”
The bill troubles those involved in the arts.
“Funding from the Oklahoma Arts Council is what supports a lot of our arts education programs, such as Arts Camp and Missoula Children’s Theatre," said Charlie Burns, executive director of the Woodward Arts & Theatre Council.
Without state funds, which are appropriated in the form of a grant at the local level, the ability to bring in outside professional performing artists would be limited, Burns said.
“The Woodward Arts Theatre has been a major grant support recipient for many, many years," he said. "Our community has always been very supportive of the arts, but the private donations along with the Oklahoma Arts Council grants are what have sustained the Woodward Arts Council, I believe.”
District 58 Rep. Jeff Hickman, whose district includes part of Woodward and other Northwest Oklahoma communities, said, “The arts are very important to our communities and our schools, particularly Woodward. The amount of money appropriated to this program is a very minimal percentage of the state budget and the grants are issued to programs throughout the state including many in Woodward through the years.
"Based on the overwhelming feedback I have received from those who live in District 58, the Oklahoma Arts Council is important to communities in Northwest Oklahoma and they prefer the program continue.”
Rep. Mike Sanders, whose District 59 also includes parts of Woodward County, agreed, saying, “I do know that many of the volunteers who work at the Woodward Arts and Theatre Council do a wonderful job and give so much back to the community.
“I have attended the summer arts camp in Woodward and have seen the difference it makes in these young children’s lives. They do a great job.”
According to Joel Gavin, director of marketing and communications with the Oklahoma Arts Council, if HB 2850 were to pass, Oklahoma's nonprofit arts and cultural industry would lose more than 500 grants to over 300 organizations and schools in communities statewide as well as professional development services.
In addition, organizations in Oklahoma would lose funding and services from the National Endowment for the Arts (approximately 15 percent of the OAC budget) and Mid-America Arts Alliance. Funding. Services from both organizations are contingent upon the state's investment in the arts.
“It's likely that rural organizations would be most affected by HB 2850 because of the limited availability of resources in their areas,” Gavin said.
The Oklahoma Arts Council receives a subsidy from the state of $4 million a year. In an article from Jan. 24, 2013, Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight says according to a recent study by Americans for the Arts, in Oklahoma the arts generate about $29 million in annual tax revenue for the state.
Attempts to contact Rep. Fisher were unsuccessful.