Oklahoma Arts Council faces two legislative foes, at risk of losing funding and independence

TULSA - At the Hardesty Arts Center in downtown Tulsa, behind each piece of art is an artist.

"What we are looking at here is an exhibit of work by artists, student artists from the Oklahoma Arts Institute and their summer art institute program," Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa executive director Ken Busby said, while walking through an exhibit.

Behind part of the Oklahoma Arts Institute is the Oklahoma Arts Council. The council is funded by the state of Oklahoma, with its budget this year being slightly more than $4,000,000.

"What the Oklahoma Arts Council does with that money is that it really provides seed money," Busby said. "It allows organizations to then raise many more times private dollars in their communities."

Busby says the return on that seed money can be close to $8 for every $1 an organization receives from the council.

But this past week, between applause in Governor Mary Fallin's State of the State address, she presented her executive budget for 2015. That budget proposes agency consolidation.

That agency consolidation includes taking the Arts Council, Historical Society, J.M. Davis Memorial Commission, Will Rogers Memorial Commission and Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission and merging them into one department. Those agencies would become the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.

If that agency consolidation takes place, Busby said the art council would lose its independence. He said the council must maintain its independence or it will lose $1.5 million in federal funding.

In addition, during consolidation the Arts Council would lose even more through a decreased amount of state funding, possibly leading to smaller arts and humanities programs closing their doors.

"If they don't get that seed money, if they don't get that stamp of approval, they have no where else to go," Busby said. "I understand the governor's need to consolidate, to find ways to save money."

But Busby just doesn't agree with this way of going about consolidation and saving money.

The Oklahoma Arts Council also faces another foe at the state capitol in Oklahoma City. House Bill 2850, if passed, would decrease the council's budget each year over the next four years until it's completely eliminated by 2018.

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