Artful dodge

State appropriations are vital to the agency, which funds more than 300 organizations and programs throughout Oklahoma. House Bill 1895, by Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Tecumseh, would have cut funding to the arts council by 25 percent each fiscal year until 2017.

Cockroft placed HB 1895 as his ninth priority bill, he said. In the House, legislators are limited to eight key priorities, so the measure was sent to the House Rules Committee, where it was highly unlikely to receive a hearing.

“My desire was more to start a conversation than to get legislation passed,” Cockroft said. “It is an ongoing conversation I want to have of making sure that every penny of the taxpayers’ dollars is well spent.”

The bill definitely sparked that. In the wake of his introducing the measure, several organizations rose in opposition. Kim Baker, Oklahoma Arts Council executive director, said she now sees the controversy as an opportunity to educate legislators and the public about the agency’s purpose and influence throughout the Sooner State.

“It really helped us to be able to make the case, because the case was being made for us,” she said. “What we do and how we benefit and serve the state through our programs and services is so valuable.”

Baker said the arts are critical for a state’s economy and growth. New businesses coming to Oklahoma, she added, consider such aspects as the arts — not just the quality of education and roads.

The arts industry returns $29.4 million in tax revenue annually to the state and local governments, according to an Oklahoma Arts Council economic impact study.

Cockroft’s bill would have saved the state an estimated $4 million in appropriations.

The arts council is requesting a $500,000 increase for fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1.

Baker said the funding would be allocated to developing cultural districts in rural communities, restoring alternative education programs for at-risk youth, extending the art incorporation in state after-school programs and managing the art collections at the state Capitol.

“You can feel the energy that is happening in a community that has a
rich and vibrant cultural infrastructure in place,” she said.

Rachael Cervenka

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