federal shutdown
The Oklahoma Arts Council alerted "organizational support" grantees about effects of the federal government shutdown Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. (Screenshot)

(Correction: Published Wednesday afternoon, this story and its headline were updated at 3:40 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24, to note that 38 organizations have grants impacted totaling more than $595,000. Earlier statistics that appeared in this article were tabulated from data posted on the Oklahoma Arts Council’s website.)

This morning, 38 arts entities across Oklahoma received notification that more than $595,000 in mid-year “organizational support” reimbursements “will be delayed for an undetermined amount of time” owing to the ongoing federal government shutdown.

“Also be advised that delays will continue even after the shutdown has been resolved due to the backlog in work awaiting furloughed federal employees, and due to the amount of time required for the state to draw down funds from the federal government,” Oklahoma Arts Council grants director Tran Thomas wrote in an email.

The mid-year payment delays affect some of Oklahoma’s most prominent arts organizations, including:

  • Tulsa Ballet
  • Oklahoma City Ballet
  • Oklahoma City Philharmonic
  • Lyric Theatre
  • Philbrook Museum of Art
  • Red Earth
  • Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park
  • Oklahoma City Museum of Art
  • Shawnee’s Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art
  • Muskogee Little Theatre
  • Ardmore Little Theatre
  • Lawton Community Theatre
  • Enid Symphony Orchestra
  • Bartlesville Symphony Orchestra
  • Fine Arts Institute of Edmond
  • Duncan’s Chisholm Trail Arts Council
  • Norman’s Jazz in June
  • Firehouse Arts Center in Norman

A full list of organizational support grant recipients can be found here.

‘A very uncomfortable position financially’

federal shutdown
Wilson Arts Integration Elementary School has been a success story for the Black Liberated Arts Center’s arts-education program, according to BLAC Inc. executive director Anita Arnold. (William W. Savage III)

In all, the 39 organizations’ 2018 grants total more than $1.38 million. Individual awards, which are distributed in two payments to reimburse programmatic costs, range from $200 to $65,446.

“It comes as a blow. I’ll put it bluntly,” said Anita Arnold, executive director of the Black Liberated Arts Center in Oklahoma City. “That’s very unsettling because when we get grants from the Oklahoma Arts Council, they tell you what the grant amount is they’re going to give you. But you don’t get any money up front. You have to invest all your money in it, and then they give you money back. They give us money every six months after we’ve invested our money. So it’s very difficult to live like that.”

BLAC Inc. qualified for about $26,500 in reimbursement for this fiscal year, which Arnold said predominantly supports her organization’s arts-education efforts with Oklahoma City Public Schools.

“Wilson Arts Integration School is our shining example of the effectiveness of our arts education programs. We do a lot of teacher training,” Arnold said, naming Cesar Chavez Elementary, Martin Luther King Elementary and Nichols Hills Elementary as other schools benefiting from arts education.

She said BLAC Inc. is hosting a Feb. 11 professional development conference on arts education at Wilson and that her organization brings in paid trainers from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

“It puts us in a very uncomfortable position financially speaking,” Arnold said. “It closes up your cash flow, that’s what it does. And it could be a matter of life and death for the organization, particularly if you don’t have reserves built up.”

‘It is essential to our overall budget’

For Doug Newell, music director of the Enid Symphony Orchestra, the effect of Wednesday’s announcement will not be immediate but could be substantial if the federal shutdown drags on much longer. His organization qualified for a $25,861 grant for this fiscal year.

“It is essential to our overall budget. (…) It’ll have a great impact by the end of March. That is when we would feel its impact,” he said. “If it doesn’t happen by the end of the fiscal year June 30, then we’ll post a deficit for the year, and it’s highly likely it would be necessary to borrow funds (or hold a special fundraiser) to replace that.”

Newell said Oklahomans from an 11-county area travel to Enid for the symphony’s concerts and public events.

“The Enid Symphony was the first civic orchestra in the state of Oklahoma. It was founded in 1905-1906 and has played continuously since then,” he said.

Along with the Tulsa Symphony and the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, Newell said the Enid Symphony Orchestra is a partner for Carnegie Hall’s Link-Up project which helps about 80 orchestras across the country teach music to grade schoolers.

“The program is free to students in the third and fourth grades in the area,” Newell said. “Our obligation is to take the materials that Carnegie supplies, put them into the schools and then present a performance. It really can be a year-long education program in the public schools.”

Asked if they had a message for Congress and President Donald Trump, both Arnold and Newell encouraged re-opening the federal government.

“It’s bad enough that the lives of people are impacted by politics on an ongoing basis,” Arnold said. “But to bring a halt to people’s livelihoods when they’ve already committed themselves to businesses, mortgages and that sort of thing, it’s awful.”

Newell said the federal government should focus on serving the common good.

“I don’t think there’s any problem that can never be solved through negotiation,” he said. “It’s time to get off the Twitter accounts and get on the telephone and start talking and start making compromises both ways. That’s the art of the deal, and it needs to be done by both parties in control. It’s time to be an adult and live up to the responsibility for which you were elected.

“I’m a big believer in government when it works and when those elected will let it work.”

The federal government has been partially shutdown since Dec. 22, including the National Endowment for the Arts, which provides about 20 percent of the Oklahoma Arts Council’s annual budget.

Joel Gavin, director of communications for the Oklahoma Arts Council, emailed the following statement Thursday, attributable to executive director Amber Sharples:

Unfortunately, for these nonprofit organizations, this comes on top of a series of compounding state budget cuts to the Oklahoma Arts Council that have already reduced their funding from us by nearly half of what it was a decade ago. These nonprofits arts organizations play significant roles in boosting local economies and providing the quality of life Oklahomans deserve. Their programs are pivotal to providing arts education that has been eliminated from many schools.