Tulsans will go to the polls June 28 for the city’s nonpartisan mayoral primary.
Every Sunday between now and election day, incumbent Mayor Dewey Bartlett and his main challenger, City Councilor G.T. Bynum, will answer one question a week submitted by Tulsans.
We’re calling it “So You Want to be Mayor?”
If you would like to submit a question, email it to The Frontier at email@example.com.
This week’s two-part question comes from Nancy Hermann with Tulsa’s Performing Arts Center.
Hermann is concerned about the city’s inability to provide a consistent level of funding for the arts.
“The arts educate and entertain,” she said. “A city with a vibrant arts scene fosters tourism and attracts employers and a workforce that value a strong and stable cultural foundation in a city. The arts also provide jobs and generate revenue.”
Question: “What can be done to mitigate the negative impact that fluctuating sales tax revenue has on city-funded arts programs and institutions? And what specific plans do you have to ensure that city-funded arts programs are properly funded?”
Mayor Bartlett’s Response: The arts help to construct many of the intangible parts of our city that cannot be wholly explained by labor statistics or city revenue. We have a rich culture here in Tulsa and the arts have played a fundamental role in constructing our cultural identity.
People and businesses consider moving to Tulsa because of the high quality of life that we have. The arts are crucial to that socio-economic indicator. When the arts do well, then the people tend to be happy and the city tends to be doing well economically. All of these things are interconnected and it’s important to recognize that relationship.
We’ve worked as a city to build great partnerships to further the arts here in Tulsa. For example, the University of Tulsa and the city of Tulsa’s work together on the Gilcrease Museum has done nothing but benefit our community for the common good. The Arts Alliance, which was recently formed by the city and Tulsa Community Foundation, brings Tulsa’s many philanthropic arts organizations together to achieve mutual goals.
My administration has assisted these types of organizations in creating business plans that have enabled them to be competitive and reap the benefits of the revenue they create. This service offered by the city will also enable these organizations to have greater longevity in our community.
We have also directly allocated funding to strategic purposes. As mayor, I have asked the Arts Commission to make a recommendation for dedicated funding opportunities for the arts. The percentage of capital funds used for arts purposes could be repurposed more strategically to support our thriving arts community further.
We will continue to prioritize the arts in Tulsa, because they are clearly central to our continued growth and prosperity looking toward the future.
Councilor Bynum’s Response: Every generation of Tulsans has played a part in building up our arts culture.
The pioneer generation established Theatre Tulsa, today the longest-surviving community theater west of the Mississippi. For the next generation, Waite and Genevieve Phillips donated their home — Villa Philbrook — to serve as a museum. A generation later, Tulsans pulled together to save the priceless art and artifact collection of Thomas Gilcrease. For the generation after that, the development of the Williams Center led Tulsans to support the construction of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. And for the current generation, Tulsans overwhelmingly approved the construction of the BOK Center — one of the top concert venues anywhere in the world.
And this is to say nothing of the Tulsa Philharmonic, Tulsa Opera, Cain’s Ballroom (where Bob Wills is still the king), the Tulsa Sound, Living Arts, Guthrie Green, the Woody Guthrie Center, the Jazz Hall of Fame, WaterWorks, and on and on and on. The arts are in Tulsa’s DNA.
This is good for our economy, given the increasing importance of creativity in the international job marketplace. And it is good for our local coffers, as cultural tourism draws more dollars per tourist than sports tourism.
Yet, we face threats to city-owned arts institutions due to funding shortfalls. While some will point blame at the lack of diversity in our tax revenue (which is a legitimate, though secondary concern), the real issue is that Tulsa’s growth has been stagnant for 15 years. If you are not growing at a rate that outpaces the increase in your costs, you will always be on the wrong side of history.
We have to be honest with ourselves about why we haven’t been growing. We need to once again be regarded as the best place in Oklahoma to receive an education, and we need a form of local government that fosters collaboration amongst leaders rather than conflict. My primary focus as mayor will be to get Tulsa growing again.
While that is under way, we fortunately have examples from the recent past to guide us. In the last decade, the city turned over responsibility for operations and fundraising at Gilcrease Museum to the University of Tulsa. This has been a tremendous success, and we should utilize similar partnerships with other city-owned cultural institutions.
You also need elected officials in place who recognize the value of the arts. A few years ago, the mayor proposed eliminating funding for several theater programs. When the children who benefit from these programs attended a City Council meeting to share their stories, a number of my City Council colleagues spoke very movingly about the role the arts had played in their lives. We found the funding to help those programs that enable Tulsans to lead better lives.
I am running for mayor because I want my kids to inherit a city that strives for greatness. In the arts, greatness is already part of our identity. We need to build upon that foundation for the next generation.