February 1, 2013

Bill that would have severely hurt Rock Island fest dies prior to vote

James Bright, Managing Editor,
The Express-Star

CHICKASHA — A bill, which would have de-funded the Oklahoma Arts Council over the next four years and severely damaged the Rock Island Arts Festival, appears to have died prior to the Feb. 4 start of the new Oklahoma legislative session.

District 65 Representative Joe Dorman (D) said H.B. 1895, which was authored by District 27 Representative Josh Cockroft (R), is not eligible to be heard this year since it is the ninth bill filed by Cockroft for this session, which exceeds filing limitations.

"He would have to get permission to transfer that bill, or another he's filed to a different representative for this session," Dorman said.

District 56 Representative David Perryman (D) said the arts council does a lot of work in Grady County to further the endeavors of local artists.

"The viability of the Oklahoma Arts Council is essential to many events and festivals in District 56," he said.

The Rock Island Arts Festival and Artscope are two programs supported by the council said Perryman.

"The arts council supports a number of projects in conjunction with USAO and supports arts camps for youth in Caddo and Grady County," he said. "Through the support of the Oklahoma Arts Council, visual and performing arts as well as cultural and Native American art is presented when it would not otherwise be feasible."

Rock Island used funds from the council to pay for rental and facility expenses said Perryman.

"Without this type of funding in the early years of an event such as this, it would not have long-term viability," he said.

Should the bill come up in the future both Dorman and Perryman said they would adamantly oppose it.

"Every state funded organization has taken a hit over the past few years and I realize we have to prioritize the importance of these organizations, but we need to direct some of this away from the arts," Dorman said.

The council's work generates a substantial amount of profit according to Perryman. He said 80 percent of the council's budget goes back into communities across the state.

"The state and local tax revenue generated by the non-profit arts and cultural industry supported by the council is approximately $29 million a year," he said.

Perryman, who is a member of the house tourism committee, said he sees the council playing a vastly important role in Oklahoma's tourism industry and its future.

"The next time you are at an art or cultural festival, it is likely that some of the funding came through the art council," he said.

Dorman said he and District 20 Senator, AJ Griffen (R ) are carrying a bill that would use some of the proceeds from license plates bought in the state to fund the arts council.

"We are always exploring options to see if we can bring private dollars to the council," Dorman said.

Joel Gavin, director of marketing and communications for the Oklahoma Arts Council said the organization is excited by the death of the bill.

"We are happy about it," he said. "Our response has been that we are going to continue to educate and inform policy makers and Oklahomans about what we do and how we benefit the state."

Cockroft's district is based mostly in the northern and central portions of Pottawatomie County.