Art In Public Places on the Chopping Block

Please consider contacting your state legislators today and asking them to vote against HB 1665 and SB 14.

These bills would halt Oklahoma’s Art in Public Places Act for three years or eliminate it altogether.

Why is this bill – and the Art in Public Places (AIPP) Act – important enough for to call you to arms? Simply put, public art projects make a positive difference in the lives of Oklahomans, and eliminating them will have a negative impact. These bills will not reduce taxes for Oklahomans, will not assist in balancing the budget, and will actually eliminate jobs and progress in the state.

Is AIPP is a waste of taxpayer money that could go toward other programs?

Julia Kirt’s Facts About the Art in Public Places Act very concisely explains the details of AIPP and its impact. The two most noteworthy parts of this document are even bolded within the text –

Fiscal Analysis states that suspending or eliminating the Oklahoma Art in Public Places Program does not help alleviate the deficit, “because the funding for AIPP came from bond issuances and not state appropriations, there would be no direct impact to the General Revenue Fund or other sources of state finances.”

Funds for the artwork are deducted directly from the construction monies. This is money absolutely dedicated to the building.

This means that this funding comes directly from money that has already been set aside for a capital project. If this program were eliminated, the allocated funds would not be able to be redirected to other programs, or given back to Oklahomans in the form of tax cuts.

Furthermore, let’s look at the actual impact of this bill. Last year for only $50,000, three Oklahoma artists were commissioned for public projects that transformed their careers, increased their business capacity, and continue to have a positive impact on our state’s landscape. This is certainly not the out-of-control waste that this bill’s supporters would claim. These artists, who are quite definitely small business people, and who often hire other workers to complete large-scale projects, contribute to this state’s culture and economy in countless ways.

It’s important to consider the long-term consequences of effectively eliminating future public art. It has been shown that a state rich in art and cultural resources is attractive to tourists and travelers. Cultural travelers (those who make up 81% of tourists who travel over 50 miles from home) spend 40% more money and stay 50% longer, according to a recent Travel Industry Association of American study. The impact of those who travel for cultural reasons is bigger than those who travel for sports, business, or other reasons.

Tourism dollars can only help bolster our state’s economy.

So then, why is this program a target for elimination?

I take issue with the framing of the argument. When people say “I don’t want tax dollars to go toward art,” no wonder they don’t support it. The sentence sounds like the money is literally going to stationary, unchanging works of art. Like someone is walking up to a sculpture and taping five dollar bills to it: a waste.

What they are saying in effect is: “I don’t want tax dollars to go towards artists.” If art is being funded, it is an artist who is gaining work. Though artists are absent from the language of these bills, they will be directly affected by it, and they deserve better. So do all the people that could be involved in their projects.

Finally, why is public art worthwhile?

What does it do? What if I don’t like it or if it is ugly?

Public art can- and often does- record community history. AIPP artists work directly with community members in the creation of their works. Can you think of any great city that is not immediately associated with its art? Theater, sculpture, music- these things reflect culture and they push culture. They build community and civic pride. Personally, I can’t wait to see an Oklahoma peppered with more reflections of our rich and complex history.

Even challenging- or “ugly”- artwork is worthwhile and worth supporting.  Many of the world’s greatest and most well-known works of art were initially received poorly or considered “ugly.” The Eiffel Tower and the paintings of the Impressionists were famously criticized in their day. Can you imagine France without them?

Each of the current public art projects (those completed and those under construction) were selected by committee for what they, specifically, would bring to the state, and for what they would say about our state. Each of the artists were selected through a competitive application process. Each of their projects are worthwhile. Let’s help see them to completion.

Ultimately, HB 1665 does not serve Oklahomans. Eliminating this project at this point in time would eliminate existing jobs and halt ongoing projects in their tracks. At best, it is an empty gesture, attacking a cause seen as “partisan” while having zero impact on saving taxpayer dollars. At worst, it is a direct blow against the cultural heritage of our beautiful state. I would like Oklahoma to be the kind of state that was open to challenge. A state that could be known for welcoming new art that reflects our best and inspires us toward greater things.


Again, give Julia Kirt’s document a once-over:

You can also visit the website of Oklahoma Art In Public Places here:

Oklahoma deserves great art, and raising your voice now can have an impact. These bills will likely come up for a vote this week. Please find and contact your legislators here, and ask them to vote NO on HB 1665 and SB 14.

(c) Jenn Barron All rights reserved. Send Jenn your feedback through her email.

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