When COVID-19 forced the cancelation of concerts and plays in March of this year many believed it would be a temporary condition. “The show must go on,” was the mantra of the day. But as weeks turned to months and arts groups struggled and faltered across the state the outlook became grim.
Thankfully, here in Lawton, there is a strong coalition between arts organizations and a willingness to lend a hand when times are tough. And now, thanks to a share of $3 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding made available to the arts and cultural sector by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, many area arts groups are receiving a needed injection of funds.
The funding is being administered as Oklahoma Arts and Cultural Industry Relief Grants by the Oklahoma Arts Council.
“Since the Governor’s announcement of this investment in our industry three weeks ago, Oklahoma Arts Council staff has worked round-the-clock to ensure the funding could save jobs and stabilize as many nonprofits and other essential organizations across the state arts and cultural industry as possible,” Oklahoma Arts Council Executive Director Amber Sharples said.
In southwest Oklahoma, eight different organizations received relief grants: Lawton Community Theatre, Lawton Philharmonic, City of Lawton Arts & Humanities, Duncan Little Theatre, Chisholm Trail Art Council, Chisholm Trail Heritage Center Association, Cotton County Art Council and the Kiowa Tribe.
“I am very proud that CTAC, among many other arts organizations in OK, is a recipient of this relief grant,” Chisholm Trail Art Council Executive Director Darcy Reeves said. “We now see the light at the end of the tunnel. In a typical year, fundraising can be hard in small communities. But when you are faced with so many obstacles from a local and national pandemic, it is really tough to provide the quality programs to the community in a safe way.”
Some of the programs that CTAC provides the Stephens County area include their live concert series, an annual youth art camp, artists-in-residences to area schools and art exhibits in their art gallery.
Maestro Jon Kalbfleisch with the Lawton Philharmonic Orchestra said the funds will help the orchestra continue vital outreach programs in order to reach students, as well as create more televised and online programming.
“Especially during this time, music education is essential,” Kalbfleisch said. “For instance, we were able to create a video of world-class violinist David Kim when he was here in August, to share with the students virtually.”
The Lawton Community Theatre, which had to cancel its planned 2020-2021 season this year, received a $20,000 grant that will also go toward creating more virtual opportunities for student outreach.
“We have had to be very flexible and creative during the pandemic. LCT was able to produce a few productions this year, but not enough to generate the kind of revenue we’re used to. The grant will help provide equipment for streaming capabilities, not only for upcoming performances, but to assist in our outreach programs to area schools,” Lawton Community Theatre Managing Director Chance Harmon said. “The arts are vital to economic development and quality of life. This grant allows us to continue our mission and provides the opportunity for LCT to be even more innovative.”
Billie Whipp, Arts & Humanities Administrator for the City of Lawton, said the $18,750 grant the City received would be put toward sanitizing stations and personal protective equipment at McMahon Auditorium, as well as upgrades to their streaming capabilities.
Oklahoma’s creative industry, which relies heavily on in-person fundraising and event-generated income has suffered and estimated pandemic-related losses of 19,000 jobs and $606 million in sales, with the performing and fine arts being disproportionately affected.
The CARES Act funding is a tourniquet that could help stop the bleeding until these organizations are able to once again open their doors to the public.
Kaley Patterson Dorsey, a board member for both Lawton Community Theatre and Lawton Philharmonic Orchestra, said that this year has been devastating for the arts community not just financially, but spiritually as well. But despite the loss, the community remains resilient.
“I am so proud to be a part of both these organizations,” Patterson Dorsey said. “I know this funding will help not only LCT and LPO, but the community as a whole. We are so thankful to our patrons for sticking with us during this time, and we can’t wait to honor them with this funding we’ve received.”