State Representative Josh Cockroft (R-Tecumseh) recently introduced HB 1895, legislation that would eliminate funding for the Oklahoma Arts Council. The budget received by the Oklahoma Arts Council from the state is $4 million annually; this state funding allows the OAC to receive federal funding as well. According to a recent study, the arts bring $29 million in annual revenue to the state of Oklahoma, and provide the equivalent of 10,000 full-time jobs—an impressive return made possible in part by the support of the Oklahoma Arts Council. Public funding redistributes revenue to under-served and rural populations, improving access to education and the quality of life in communities across Oklahoma. In Stillwater and at OSU, we benefit directly from these publicly funded programs. Funding from the Oklahoma Arts Council has allowed the OSU Museum of Art to involve students, faculty and guest artists with programming for children and families in the Stillwater community for many years. In this week’s blog post, Gardiner Gallery Director Shawn Yuan writes about his experiences with the Oklahoma Arts Council, its impact on his programming in the Gallery, and our commitment to arts outreach.
The devastating news started to circulate just as I was preparing to seek OAC funding for next year. A proposal to eliminate all governmental funding to OAC by 2017 has been filed to the state House of Representatives. I was appalled by it. Apparently, art is still conceived as something that can be sacrificed first, when the budget becomes tight. This leads me to think about art in a larger context. When the nation expressed concern about its future status as a world leader of innovation, art was rarely mentioned. When people debated how to improve the country’s crumbling public education system, again, art was seldom discussed. But the fact is that art, probably more than any other field, including science and business, has defined U.S. as a nation full of vitality, ingenuity and freedom.
Since 2010, the Gardiner Gallery has continuously received growing funding support from the Oklahoma Arts Council (OAC). This year, its support counts for about 13% of the gallery’s operational cost. Though seemingly a small portion of the gallery budget, this funding is actually indispensible, allowing the gallery to pursue ambitious community programs. With funding from the OAC, we have brought leading artists from across the country to Stillwater, where they give public lectures free of charge, while their works are displayed in the Gardiner Gallery. Visiting artists have also offered numerous stimulating community workshops, teaching school kids and community members how to create their own artworks and be inspired. Thanks to the generous support of the Oklahoma Arts Council, the gallery has successfully collaborated with Sangre Ridge Elementary School, Stillwater Public Library and Stillwater Multi Arts Center. Through provocative exhibitions and programs, the gallery introduced a wide variety of visual arts to the community, in particular to those who may otherwise seldom have a chance to see original artworks or work with nationally recognized artists.
To quote a Chinese proverb: “Drink poison to quell thirst.” Cutting public funding for the arts is, no doubt, a short-sighted decision that will lead to dire consequences. Leaving little or no access to art will stifle people’s—especially our children’s—minds, which used to be enlightened by exciting art exhibitions and programs. Before we decide to cut public funding for arts, there is a question we must face—can we really afford the price that will be paid by future generations? I am sure there are other, better options.
Have you participated in a workshop or program at the Gardiner Gallery? Share your experience with these Oklahoma Arts Council-supported programs in the comments! And to find out how you can support the Arts Council, and the arts in Oklahoma more generally, visit Oklahomans for the Arts.