New Nonprofit Seeks to Stimulate Oklahoma’s Cultural Landscape

First Posted: June 30th, 2011

Example of publicly-funded artwork on UCO's Campus. Image by Liz Boyer

Beginning July 1, the Oklahoma Arts Council faces a steep budget cut of nine percent for the new fiscal year. The agency is now down 22 percent since the 2009 fiscal year.


The Oklahoma Arts Council, whose yearly appropriation wanes at four million dollars, must make due with sharper cuts than most agencies that are standing cuts of three to seven percent. The solution?


New group’s mission is to maintain cultural awareness

Enter Oklahomans for the Arts, a nonprofit organization launched in May. The new activist group seeks to make up the losses and expand the cultural landscape of Oklahoma. Oklahomans for the Arts began in order to prevent a complete loss of public funding for the arts like Oklahoma’s neighbor to the north, Kansas.


Kansas Governor Sam Brownback line-item vetoed funding for the Kansas Arts Commission on May 28, making Kansas the only state to lack an arts council or commission.


“When the crash of the economy occurred in 2008, I think we all knew if we did not do something in formal advocacy, the arts would be more vulnerable than ever,” Jennifer James, director for Oklahomans for the Arts, said. “And now we are seeing drastic cuts across the nation in public funding for the arts, meaning we have the ongoing challenge to show legislators how important arts are to the economy.”


The economic benefit of the arts


According to Suzanne Tate, executive director of the Oklahoma Arts Council, the economic impact of nonprofit arts and cultural organizations in the state is nearly $315 million.


“Many areas of Oklahoma would not have access to the arts without public funding. Public funding ensures that all Oklahomans regardless of age geographic isolation, economic status or ethnic background can enjoy and benefit from the arts,” Tate said.


Cultural hotspots like the Paseo District and Plaza District in Oklahoma City owe their establishment to publicly funded art development.


“With the Oklahoma Art in Public Places project being shelved for almost three years, we are looking to create a group that inspires the workforce of this state through art and culture. Also reaching different generations is so important. We have to appeal to teens, Generation Y, X, and the Baby Boomers so there is always growth,” James said. But will Oklahomans be ready to embrace this cultural movement?


Arts in the status quo


“On one hand, the environment is right for the progressively-minded and those who see economic benefits to culture. On the other hand, we have a long way to go. So many Americans missed out on art in public schools and find art unnecessary because of their lack of exposure. We have our work cut out for us,” James said.


Oklahomans for the Arts plans to work closely with the Oklahoma Arts Council to ignite the movement. “We have one of the strongest arts councils in the nation, and they are integral to our organization,” James said.


Oklahomans for the Arts was founded by Jim Tolbert II, Kym Koch Thompson, and Linda Frazier. Currently the organization is in the process of recruiting board members.


Membership to Oklahomans for the Arts on an individual and group basis will launch October 26 at the Oklahoma State Arts Conference in Tulsa.



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