New Tulsa Budget Forces Cuts To Performing Arts

Tuesday, May 6th 2014, 7:36 pm

Tulsa's next city budget could cut funding for the performing arts, both for professionals and amateurs. The cuts would performances in the Parks Department and the PAC.

The city pays employees who support children's programs and help raise money; those jobs have been cut from the budget. The arts programs at Henthorne Park have also been cut, but the mayor says it's not an attack on the arts.

5/1/2014 Related Story: 188 Vacant Positions Eliminated, 27 Layoffs In Proposed 2015 Tulsa Budget

In the summer, the Henthorne Performing Arts Center is booked solid with camps full of children. It's unquestionably popular, and for grandparents like Curtis Berry, something Tulsa shouldn't think of ending.

"It makes you feel like the performing arts is not the highest priority they have," Berry said.

Henthorne has 35 years of history behind it, but only a few months ahead of it. Shutting down the program and closing Henthorne will save the $245,000 a year it takes to keep it going; three people will lose their jobs.

The city has whittled down what was a separate adult and youth performing arts program into the one at Henthorne. Right now, there are 375 families involved with the program, the only one like it in the city.

The mayor's budget also cuts three employees at the Performing Arts Center, all in the PAC Trust. They work to produce publications and manage children's programming, but their work touches every performance in one way or another.

At city hall, the Mayor denies that he's targeting the performing arts, but says the realities of the budget are forcing the city to do what's essential and cut everything else.

"Now a lot of people disagree with them, and I understand that, I really do, but unfortunately when we're short of money, something has to give," Bartlett said.

He said he's hopeful private funding will replace the $175,000 cut at the PAC, and that another theater group will step in to carry on the programs at Henthorne.

Longtime supporters like Sidney Treat are upset Henthorne's programs are otherwise going to end.

"What wonderful things they do with the kids, for the kids, and the return for the staff and all of us that support the kids, it's wonderful," Treat said.

The jobs at the PAC would end in June; the Henthorne program is set to close at the end of summer, because they already are booked to capacity until then.

This budget now goes to the council for possible changes.