For the last week I had been working on my next blog post which was going to be about Sugar Free Allstars’ recent 10 day tour out West. That was… until I got home to Oklahoma and learned about OK House Bill 1895. This bill proposes to cut state funding to the Oklahoma Arts Council by 25% per year for four years, eliminating all funding by 2017. This is disturbing for numerous reasons. On the grand scale this is sending a message to the nation that the arts aren’t important in my home state. On his blog Representative Cockroft, who authored the bill, says:
“I have nothing against the arts, in fact; quite the contrary. However, I do not support the misuse of taxpayer’s dollars. Every dollar saved from these side projects is a dollar better spent for our education system, state employees, and agencies across Oklahoma.”
Needless to say it’s discouraging when one of your state’s legislators refers to the arts as a “side project”. In reality, studies have shown time and time again that this “side project” increases students’ intellect and test scores, has a positive impact on local economies, and culturally enriches communities, thereby attracting new businesses and families.
If the motivation behind this bill is purely fiscal responsibility, let’s talk numbers: the Oklahoma Arts Council only receives $4 million per year of the total state budget of $6.8 billion (that’s less than 1/10th of one percent!) and according to a 2010 study by Americans for the Arts, the arts in Oklahoma actually generated $29 million in tax revenue, a $25 million profit. I’m no financial expert, but I’m not sure it makes much business sense to cut a program that provides a 600% return on its investment.
Many of these schools have already lost their arts programs and our visits are an effort to help fulfill their state mandated art education requirement. Without these grants from OAC, these rural communities wouldn’t be able to have us come visit, decreasing their exposure to the arts.
The arts are around us everyday, in virtually every aspect of our lives, and yet they are almost always the first thing on the chopping block when it comes to balancing the budget. The next Oklahoma legislative session begins on February 4th, so it looks like I’ll be contacting my legislator this week to express opposition to this bill.
I am encouraged to see the outpouring of support for the Oklahoma Arts Council from the community and hopeful that HB 1895 won’t make it past committee.