In Search of Arts Funding
Allied Arts and agencies seek financial answers
Photos by James Pratt
It’s no secret that the state of Oklahoma is in the midst of an unprecedented budget crisis. Cuts to education, health and human services and other agencies have been in headlines for months. As those cuts begin to take hold, the trickle-down impact is making itself felt on other groups and programs.
One of those is the Allied Arts grants program. But instead of wringing their hands and crying “the sky is falling,” leaders are looking at ways to get the community involved as they stress the importance of continued funding.
“At Allied Arts, we are constantly hearing testimonies of students whose lives are being changed by the arts,” says Deborah McAuliffe Senner, Allied Arts president and CEO.
“We hear about a middle schooler who is from an underprivileged area and is growing up around gangs and violence, but finds structure, discipline, acceptance and mentorship through an in-school and after-school ballroom dance program and turns his life in a direction he never thought possible.
“We hear about rural school children who are getting the opportunity to experience first-class theater, ballet and orchestral performances during school that would never have the opportunity otherwise. In fact, we could give endless anecdotal examples of the ways students are growing, being challenged and transforming due to the power of the arts.”
Allied Arts was founded in 1971 to act as a stable funding source for the local community, Senner said. But in a growing city experiencing shrinking resources, stability is hard to come by: This year, two of its grants programs – Educational Outreach and Capacity Building – awarded $67,000 fewer in funding compared to the previous fiscal year.
“We didn’t have the resources to fill an additional $143,954 in submitted requested funds this year,” Senner says. “The demand for funding is greater than ever before. Oklahoma City has come a long way and we want to continue building the arts, and the only way we can do that is with increased funding. It is a complex issue that delves into quality of life, economic impact, attracting and maintaining talent, revitalization and beautification of neighborhoods, education and so much more. It is immensely important not to just maintain funding for the arts but to continuously increase funding for the arts. As the arts are pushed out of schools, where will the gap be filled? The answer lies within our arts groups.”
Like many other agencies and groups, Allied Arts is making budget cuts and operating “very smart, very lean,” Senner says, and they know how to be extremely resourceful.
“We are also developing numerous strategies to diversify so we may attract and educate new donors,” she says. “We looked at new and unique ways to tell our story of the transformational power of the arts – because sometimes when people think of the arts, they think of the next big show at the Civic Center or the next exhibit at a museum, and the arts are so much more. We wanted people to know the stories of the thousands of kids’ lives that are impacted every day by the arts. We want people to know of underserved groups who would not have been exposed to the arts without the programs of our member agencies. Our focus is on making the arts accessible to everyone.”
One of Allied Arts’ new campaigns is the recently completed 45 Day Giveaway. The online raffle was a strategy to get more people donating to the arts by appealing to micro donors.
“Overall, we run a community-wide campaign, but have very few in the community who contribute,” Senner says. “If every resident gave $1, $2, $5, $10 or more, we could help close the arts funding gap. We help fund programs that reach every part of the state, but we do not have the donors that we need. Every donation helps. Everyone can be a part of the solution through a donation and through supporting arts advocacy. When legislators want to consolidate, eliminate or reduce funding for the arts, we need to let them know how we feel.”
► Feeling The Pressure
One of the groups on the receiving end of the Allied Arts grants is Oklahoma City’s deadCenter Film Festival.
“This is one of the toughest years for fundraising I have ever seen in my 20 years of work with nonprofits,” says deadCenter Executive Director Lissa Gumerson-Blaschke. “The arts are being hit from all sides with less funding/income available, while at the same time having increased need for our programs in the community. We have already started to see our kids’ music and arts programs disappear from the curriculum. This is why supporting Allied Arts is more important than ever.”
Most Allied Arts agencies provide free programs to kids and the community, Gumerson-Blaschke said. When someone supports Allied Arts, they play a direct role in keeping Oklahoma’s arts programs alive and strong and helping agencies expand their reach in the community.
Robert Mills, artistic director for Oklahoma City Ballet, agrees.
“Our Allied Arts funding is an important and significant percentage of our annual budget,” Mills says. “We would definitely have to make significant cuts to our programming if we were not to receive that support from Allied Arts, or if it was drastically lessened.”
Looking ahead, Allied Arts leaders say they remain positive while continuing to look for additional funding sources.
“The reality is that if we do not do something significant, the arts will suffer, and it is a step backward we cannot afford to take,” Senner says. “The fact remains that between two funding entities, Allied Arts and the State Arts Council, there will be over a million dollars less to allocate to arts groups. And we know the arts in schools have been a continuous target for budget cuts. The arts are enduring a fiscal tornado of mass proportion. The situation is dire, because the demand and the need for the arts continue to grow.”
To learn more about funding campaigns and other ways to help, visit alliedartsokc.com.