Interim Study To Evaluate Future Of Oklahoma Arts Council

Jul 21, 2014

Oklahoma Arts Council
Credit Oklahoma Arts Council

After years of discussions and a handful of bills seeking to eliminate or reduce funding to the Oklahoma Arts Council, one legislator wants to keep the mission of the group going by looking at ways to keep them viable in the state.

Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, who has been a supporter of the agency, said her interim study, H14-0018, approved earlier this month, will look what other states with similar government arts management agencies are doing.

Denney said the study comes after numerous bills have been aimed at combining the Arts Council with other state departments as a part of the consolidation effort the Legislature has taken in recent years.

"We are not necessarily thinking about doing that but instead looking at what other states are doing to keep them viable," Denney said.

Last year's attempt came in the form of HB3028, which consolidated the Department of Tourism and Recreation, The Historical Society and the Arts Council, as outlined in Gov. Mary Fallin's State of the State Address. The bill was approved Feb. 27 by the House Government Modernization and Accountability Committee, was placed on General Order in the House but was never heard on the floor. The bill was dead for the remainder of the session.

Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, said then the votes were not there to pass the measure and rather than spend time discussing it, the bill was not heard.

"I don't know if this specific plan is one that would garner the support of members next year, when it sure didn't have it this year," Hickman said upon the bill's failure to meet deadline. "I think we should always be looking at which pieces fit together and if there are any consolidations that make sense as we have done in the past."

Author of the measure, Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, did not continue to pursue the measure despite claiming the bill had the possibility to save the state approximately $2.5 million. Murphey, too, felt he lacked the support of the House to advance the bill.

As for the possibility of a bill of a similar nature being brought back next session, Denney said Monday "I feel there might be because of several years of talks."

"We just want to be proactive and see what other states have done," Denney said. "I really do believe in the mission of the Arts Council and we want to ensure everything goes well."

Many House members frowned upon the bill because it had the potential to jeopardize existing funding resources for the Council.

"I hope everyone comes with an open mind and truly find some options to keep them around," Denney said. "We may find we have it the best we can."

The Oklahoma Arts Council has consistently made their plea to lawmakers during budget hearings, emphasizing their return on investment and the value they bring to the state.

"The interim study will be an opportunity for a rigorous conversation and analysis of the most effective way for the Oklahoma Arts Council to serve the citizens of our state," said Executive Director Amber Sharples. "We hope that the study will allow us to demonstrate how our structure as a state agency with a 50-year history in its current form is the most effective way for us to serve Oklahoma while ensuring that we stay true to our unique mission of arts education and access to the arts for all Oklahomans."