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Art funding the latest target of Oklahoma budget trimmers

BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD zcampfield@opubco.com Published: January 29, 2013
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About 80 percent of the council's budget is apportioned to Oklahoma communities through the grant program, she said. Other programs supported by the grants include “free days” at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah and wood-turning classes for at-risk youth statewide.

And because those grants are spread 50-50 between the state's urban and rural areas, Baker said, reliance on private fundraising would likely have a significant impact on the ability to raise money for arts and cultural development in rural areas like Mangum.

“We use those (public) funds to go out and raise those private dollars, and we act as that ‘Good Housekeeping' seal of approval, if you will. It goes through a very rigorous process, and it goes across the state,” Baker said.

Mangum usually receives an additional $5,000 or so in council grants to support its Wild West Days, a juried art show that brings in visitors in the fall.

Denise Alexander, president of the town's Art on the Square Association, said that event has had a tremendous impact on the local economy, bringing in new businesses and boosting sales tax, Mangum's lone source of operating revenue.

“Now we have art galleries in Mangum where there were none before,” Alexander said. “It's made all the difference in what we've been able to do as a community.”

‘Shooting a gnat'

Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, described Cockroft's bill as “shooting a gnat with a cannon.”

Dank said trimming the budget is important, but removing $4 million in arts funding from a $6.6 billion state budget is not the first place he would start.

Reforming tax credit loopholes and reducing redundancies in Oklahoma's county districts, district attorney's offices and school districts would have a far more significant impact on the budget than eliminating the Oklahoma Arts Council, he said.

“Cutting the arts should not be a priority,” Dank said. “Businesses don't move businesses to a state, people do, and the people that are moving these companies like art. They want OETA. They're not going to move to a place that's backward in these areas.

Cockroft said small cut or not, freeing up $4 million here and there in an already bloated budget would allow the state to refocus on its primary goals. He said he's received over 1,000 emails since his bill went public last week, but only about four of them critical and from his district constituents.

“You have to start somewhere,” he said. “If I am in a tight spot in my budget at home, I'm going to start eliminating the movie rentals, the fast food as I go home — I'm going to start eliminating some of those smaller things so that I can pay my utilities, so I can keep the lights on,” he said. “You can hire a lot of teachers with $4 million.”