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Behind the B3: Expendable Arts

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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.

On the smaller scale this bill would affect me, professionally and personally in my ability to provide for my family.  The first family shows Sugar Free Allstars ever played were for programs funded in part by the Oklahoma Arts Council, so I feel confident in saying we would not be where we are today without them.  More than half of the shows we play in our home state are subsidized by the council in countless libraries, schools and festivals – in many smaller Oklahoma communities it’s the only way kids and families are able to experience live music.  If the arts council isn’t able to help fund these shows they just simply won’t happen, and for SFA that means fewer shows and less family income.  It’s already a full time job finding shows to keep the band busy, and this would greatly reduce our options.  SFA is honored to be included on the Oklahoma Arts Council’s touring roster, which allows schools to apply for a special grant to bring us to their town to play concerts and teach workshops about music theory and history. 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.

I’m a lifelong resident of Oklahoma, and I’ll be the first to admit that in the past we haven’t been viewed as the most forward-thinking or culturally-advanced place; but within the last 5 years or so our image has improved. There is a sense of upward momentum and civic pride coupled with support of all things local that is making me increasingly proud of living here.  Then something like this comes along and reminds me that there are still people here and around the country that view the arts (one of the things at the very heart of our cultural renaissance) as expendable.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.
Sometimes you have to fight for what you believe in from Behind the B3…..