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Oklahoma's creative industry seeks support after COVID-19 prompts layoffs, leaves arts at financial loss

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Oklahoma Arts Council Logo

The 2020 logo for the Oklahoma Arts Council, which aims to promote art in communities across the state. 

A new report on COVID-19’s effects on Oklahoma’s creative industries shows staggering job and financial losses.

From April 1 to July 31, Oklahoma lost an estimated 19,504 creative industry jobs and sales of creative industry goods and services up to $606 million, according to a report from the Washington, D.C.-based research group Brookings Institution.

Amber Sharples, director of the Oklahoma Arts Council, said the report accurately reflects what is being seen on the ground. For example, Lyric Theater of Oklahoma laid off 65 percent of its workforce due to the hardships faced during COVID-19. 

Sharples said those working in the arts industry can’t easily find new jobs in the limited market.

“Ballet dancers can’t just pivot into a new industry,” Sharples said. 

In March, the CARES act granted $75 million in federal funds to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Oklahoma Arts Council used $400,000 from the grant for various artists and nonprofit art groups across the state. 

The money was small in proportion to the eventual losses, Sharples said.

Sharples said the Oklahoma Arts Council is cautiously optimistic and that they are actively searching for more assistance and working with various city finance departments. Some specific areas, such as Tulsa and Oklahoma City, are already on the hunt for funds to provide aid to their local nonprofit art groups.

Sharples said there are ways citizens can help support Oklahoma nonprofit art groups. She suggested contacting nearby nonprofits and asking what they need. Local nonprofits can be found through the Oklahoma Arts Council website.

“Our very small nonprofit organizations that are helping rural Oklahomans, helping individuals with disabilities, engaging and doing cultural preservation with communities of color ... these are essential organizations,” Sharples said.

Sharples also suggested contacting local legislatures and letting them know the art industry’s importance in day-to-day life. 

“Arts education in your local schools is important for both your families, your kids, your community — to make it a better place to live and have a creative workforce,” Sharples said.

Sharples said she hopes to see the art industry bounce back stronger than before, but first, people must step up and take action.

“This is a place where we align our values as a state,” Sharples said. “The arts are not fluff. They’re not extra.”

This article has been updated at 3:11 pm Sept. 11 to correct the amount of grant money used to help Oklahoma artists. 

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