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Capitol Insider: Oklahoma Community Arts Events Suffer During Coronavirus Pandemic

Amber Sharples, Executive Director, Oklahoma Arts Council

COVID-19 has affected almost every aspect of life, including the arts. In this Capitol Insider segment KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley talk about the affect of coronavirus on arts events and education in Oklahoma with the executive director of the Oklahoma Arts Council, Amber Sharples.


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider - your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley. Our guest today is Amber Sharples, executive director of the Oklahoma Arts Council. Welcome, Amber.

Amber Sharples: Thank you for having me.

Dick Pryor: You bet.

Shawn Ashley: First, Director Sharples, could you give us a quick summary of the work the Arts Council does in Oklahoma?

Amber Sharples: Yes, the Oklahoma Arts Council is the state agency for the arts, and we really have two key policy areas that we push for. The first is arts education in all Oklahoma schools. The second is arts access to ensure that socio-economic and geographically-isolated individuals across the state have access to high quality arts programing for quality of life as well as economic development.

Shawn Ashley: The arts are a big part of Oklahoma's economy. How has the arts community been affected by COVID-19?

Amber Sharples: Well, just recently, the Oklahoma Arts Council released our Brookings Institute report that showed that Oklahoma has experienced since April first an estimated loss of 19,504 creative industry jobs, as well as a loss of $606,000,000 in sales of creative goods as well as services. In addition, we have seen, based on this report, that the data actually indicates that the fine and performing arts have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. I think we all understand that the inherent nature of the arts is to bring people together. And so the arts sector was one of the first industries to have to close its doors. And we are anticipating it will be one of the last to fully reopen.

Dick Pryor: What are some of the Oklahoma arts events that have been affected during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Amber Sharples: Well, for example, in Oklahoma City, something that has been part of our fabric has been the Festival of the Arts, which has brought and managed by the Arts Council of Oklahoma City. This was canceled this year. This brings thousands of individuals and artists from all over the nation, as well as it highlights Oklahoma artists. The Arts Council of Oklahoma City is stating that just in the cancellation of that event alone, they have lost a half a million dollars in revenue. So obviously, just that cancellation alone is hitting their bottom line.

Dick Pryor: Do you fear that some or many community arts events may just disappear?

Amber Sharples: Absolutely, and that is one of our fears at the Oklahoma Arts Council and one of the long-term ramifications of the pandemic if we do not do something to intervene. For example, the Cherokee National Historical Society informed us in their grant application that just looking from May ‘19 to May 2020, they saw a revenue drop of 75 percent. So, imagine a small business trying to then keep business going and pivot during a pandemic with only 25 percent of their revenue to keep their services and their arts access programing available to their community is obviously on the line.

Shawn Ashley: Labor Day weekend typically signals the end of summer and the beginning of the fall festival season, which is a significant part of life in Oklahoma. What impact has COVID-19 had on arts and culture in local communities this summer?

Amber Sharples: I think we all have understood that the arts and cultural community has really pivoted from in-person convenings and had to bring on extra expenditures into their budget in order to pivot into the virtual space. I think the innovation of the arts and cultural sector has never been more apparent and more necessary in our daily well-being. But what we're really saying is that this is having a huge ramification on the economic bottom line of these organizations.

Arts education has been one of the most difficult ones to keep at the forefront as an essential part of their education. But we've seen organizations step up even while they're hemorrhaging and having huge financial loss. They've somehow found the way to move forward and become relevant and continue their relevancy in this space. However, as this report shows, if we do not intervene at some point, it is unsustainable for us to keep those services available to schools as well as communities across the state.

Dick Pryor: What are state and local governments doing to help the arts community and those local economies weather the coronavirus storm?

Amber Sharples: Well, in Tulsa, just for example, Tulsa County is providing some opportunities for venues, music venues. It was just announced yesterday that the Tulsa Film and Music Office is providing funding to provide a platform for musicians to provide performances, very safe ones, but they're trying to then get money in the pockets of musicians. The city of Oklahoma City did provide a portion of the funds that they received under the CARES Act to the municipality, to Allied Arts, the private, non-profit entity that is then distributing those funds to help those organizations in central Oklahoma. When the CARES Act was first passed, the Oklahoma Arts Council, the state agency, did receive a little over $400,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts to provide very short term relief for these organizations. We were able to fund over 100 nonprofits across the state. However, we need additional funds on the state level, hopefully to then keep these organizations moving forward.

Dick Pryor: Amber Sharples, executive director of the Oklahoma Arts Council, thanks for joining us.

Amber Sharples: Thank you.

Dick Pryor: Thank you. And that's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, e-mail us at news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @eCapitol. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor.

Dick Pryor has more than 25 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November, 2016.
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