Brenda Granger is Executive Director of the Oklahoma Museums Association. Today is Oklahoma Arts Day at the State Capitol.

Arts and culture promote civility and transcend all boundaries. Arts and culture bring people together. Arts and culture are rooted in partnerships of all kinds, especially public-private partnerships. Arts and culture organizations offer transformational experiences to everyone across our great state and beyond. In these times of educational crisis and budget shortfalls, the Legislature should look to arts and culture as part of the solution. Funding for the Oklahoma Arts Council (OAC), and through them, arts and cultural organizations in our state, is important to our Oklahoma education, economy, communities, workforce, and future.

Not everyone realizes how important arts and culture are for Oklahoma’s education system and economy. In the next months, Oklahomans for the Arts, in partnership with Americans for the Arts, Oklahoma Arts Council, and several arts and cultural organizations, will have the latest economic impact numbers to share. It is expected the numbers will exceed those of the last study in 2010 of nonprofit arts and cultural organizations that showed that the industry had a $314.8 million impact on the state’s economy, supported 10,156 full-time equivalent jobs, and generated more than $29 million in state and local government revenues.

Arts and culture public-private partnerships are crucial for the benefit of our state and citizens. Oklahoma is home to 527 museums. It is estimated that 69 percent of Oklahoma museums are located in communities with populations under 50,000 and 37 percent have budgets less than $25,000. The Oklahoma Museums Association knows first-hand  how the Oklahoma Arts Council’s competitive grants program generates public-private partnership and allows rural museums to build capacity and be of service to their communities. OAC served 89 communities in 50 counties and provided 495 grants to 264 organizations and schools in fiscal year 2015. OAC granted $3.3 million to help generate $47.4 million in arts programming.

Arts and cultural organizations offer formal and informal educational programs. There are approximately 850 million visits each year to American museums, more than the attendance for all major league sporting events and theme parks combined. But did you know many of these organizations offer healing arts programs that assist populations with Alzheimer’s disease, visual impairment or sensory process disorders, and others? Did you know many arts and cultural organizations offer rural parts of our state educational programs such as mobile museums?

Gilcrease on Wheels, a program of Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, is one example where an arts organization brings a museum experience to rural communities. This direct interaction helps students develop a sense of local history and how their own communities are connected to historical developments. This program has served over 7,500 children throughout 16 counties in rural Oklahoma. Art programs such as these strengthen our state’s educational infrastructure. Studies have shown that students who attend a field trip to an art museum experience an increase in critical thinking skills, historical empathy, and tolerance. For students from rural or high-poverty regions, the benefits are even more significant. OAC funding makes arts education programs possible in schools and communities throughout the state.

Arts and culture public-private partnerships, such as the Seminole Nation Museum in Wewoka, Oklahoma (population 3,430), improve rural economies and engage communities. In 2004, this small, nonprofit museum applied for a $4,000 federal grant for a conservator to recommend improvements to their historical building for better preservation of their museum collection and community engagement. The museum board and executive director then raised private sector funds to implement the recommendations. By mid-2015, the museum leveraged the initial $4,000 public money to more than $1 million in private money for capital improvements, endowment, collections enhancements and property abatement. This figure does not include increased giving for operations and programs. To further the economic impact, the staff was increased to three full-time with benefits and five part-time. The museum is open twice the original hours, allowing tourists and locals more opportunity to engage in a powerful cultural experience. In addition, the museum leverages public funds they receive from the OAC for private support of their community programming.

The Oklahoma Arts Council’s investments in educational and community programs around the state generate a $14 private match for each public dollar and return $8 in state and local taxes, according to the Council’s 2015 Impact Report.  This funding makes it possible for organizations to provide the arts programming that strengthens our economy.

Many opportunities abound when arts and culture public-private partnerships work in concert for the benefit of our state, our communities, and most importantly, our citizens of all ages. If public funding for the arts is reduced or eliminated, this impact would be diminished as the public-private partnership is important to the overall equation of success.

The opinions stated above are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.