A local lawmaker is pushing to phase out state funding to the Oklahoma Arts Council.
House Bill 1895, authored by Representative Josh Cockroft (R-District 27) proposes to reduce funding appropriated to the Oklahoma Arts Council by 25 percent, ending in 2017, when the arts council would no longer receive state funding.
Cockroft said a group of lawmakers, including himself, were concerned about the amount of money being spent as a part of Oklahoma’s budget - $6.6 billion in 2012, Cockroft added.
“I simply want to ask the question,” Cockroft said. “Is funding the public arts in Oklahoma a core function of state government?”
“I don’t have anything against the arts council,” he said. “I’m simply starting a conversation.”
Cockroft said he looking to create a “leaner and more efficient” state government and to “make sure we’re being responsible with the funds we’re appropriating.”
He acknowledged that in a $6 billion dollar budget, $4 million isn’t much money.
“For me, $4 million is a lot of money,” Cockroft said. “But for the state of Oklahoma, it’s not much. But you have to start somewhere.”
“We have to realize we can’t just continue spending,” he added.
Cockroft said that arts are an investment for the state of Oklahoma, bringing tourism and attracting new businesses, but that he believes funding public arts is not a core function of state government.
“I believe if it is such an important thing, people will be willing to put their private dollars toward it,” he added.
Dane Pollei, curator for the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art, disagreed that funding could come from other places.
“There is no way to make up for that money,” Pollei said.
The Mabee-Gerrer, which receives funds from the arts council, would be heavily impacted if funding was cut, he said.
“That would devastate us,” Pollei said.
It would not only impact his museum, but would negatively impact the entire state, he added. Oklahoma would have trouble attracting new businesses and attracting tourists, he said.
Pollei dismissed ideas that this is a republican-based idea.
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“It’s not a party thing – it’s a crazy thing,” he said.
Tyler Bridges, superintendent of Pleasant Grove schools, said he hopes the funding is not cut.
Through the arts council, Pleasant Grove schools was able to secure an artist-in-residence to work with and teach students on different mediums, Bridges said.
“It’s been really good for our school,” he said.
Additionally the arts council provides funding for students to take tours of the capitol buildings and learn about the different Oklahoma artists who worked on the capitol and see the works of art inside the buildings.
“Even small things like that, I think, are good for the state,” Bridges said.
He added that this is especially important for his students, many of whom otherwise would not have an opportunity to see the capitol or learn about different types of art.
“I’ve seen the educational benefits of it,” Bridges said.