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Art funding the latest target of Oklahoma budget trimmers

BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD Published: January 29, 2013

— The arts scene in Mangum took a big hit two years ago, when the longtime art teacher finally retired from the public school district.

Struggling to find a replacement at the same time state budget allocations were dropping, school administrators came to the same inevitable decision: Year-round art education at Mangum Schools, like the teacher, were relics of the past.

Now a $2,500 grant that funds a teacher at the rural Greer County district — a 10-day “artist in residence” program — is threatened.

The residency program, though not nearly as effective as in-house instruction, is the district's last shot at providing to its students what used to be a mainstay of public education, said Barbie Stover, the district's library and media specialist.

“We learn through applying art,” Stover said. “We can apply science, math and of course language arts into any kind of visual art of into the performing arts.”

Oklahoma Arts Council is the latest target of a long-running trend by Republican lawmakers to trim the state budget.

House Bill 1895, filed this month by Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Tecumseh, would reduce that agency's $4 million dollar budget by a million dollars a year over the next four years. Other perennial targets by other lawmakers include Oklahoma Educational Television Authority and many of the state's publicly funded parks, golf courses and museums.

Cockroft said the bills are meant to question the “core function” of government and refocus state resources on the more essential needs, like education, public safety and transportation.

“Do we at this time need to be supplementing the arts with taxpayer dollars or can they survive on public donations?” he said. “If the arts truly are important, and I absolutely agree that they are, then people are going to be willing to step up and give those private donations to continue supporting it.”

But arts funding is about more than aesthetic projects, and private dollars often float in on the promise of public matching funds, said Kim Baker, the council's executive director.

Baker said through supporting art education, infrastructure, statewide programming and professional development, the council has been able to turn $4 million in state funding into $29 million in positive economic impact.

Some of that comes through sales tax dollars, but most of it is through development of a “creative workforce,” Baker said, which in turn attracts new business and industry.

The artist-in-residence program at Mangum Schools is one of about 500 grants that would be threatened if Cockroft's legislation were signed into law, she said.

About $10,000 in grant funding to the Norman Music Festival over the past five years has had an economic impact of about $13.6 million, including more than $400,000 in sales tax dollars, said Quentin Bomgardner, board member for the Norman Music Alliance.

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