Oklahoma’s goal of becoming a Top 10 state was impacted by COVID. We still can achieve that status if our leaders commit to sound investments in our future. Achievements before the pandemic and successes since suggest we are resilient and can succeed by working together. Recovery and expansion depend on a comprehensive strategy leveraging all our resources to overcome this health and economic crisis.
Among the state’s urgent needs is immediate investment in the arts and cultural sector. State leaders must recognize the need of long-term viability of these assets for a thriving economy. Oklahoma has an advantage in our blended arts and cultures. Our tribal and pioneer heritage is unique and powerful cultural story. Tribes are investing in Oklahoma’s culture. We need them as partners. Showcasing the arts and our culture is key to image and talent recruitment.
As the CEO of a global aerospace company, our success depends on the best talent. Thousands of jobs are open in our industry. However, keeping and bringing the best here requires commitment to enhancing a vibrant arts and cultural sector. The arts are a common denominator for developing critical thinkers.
We have learned that Oklahoma’s arts and cultural sector is essential to developing and recruiting talent across not just our aerospace industry but all industries. Oklahoma competes for 21st-century jobs in a global market. Businesses do focus on culture. Tesla’s recent choice of Tulsa as one of two potential production sites was a result of Tulsa’s diverse, world-class cultural amenities. A concern was a talent pipeline.
The pandemic hit Oklahoma hard. Our theaters, museums, galleries, orchestras and festivals were among the first to close their doors. They will be among the last to reopen. Recovery is uncertain, as are the livelihoods of thousands of musicians, actors, dancers, directors, visual and teaching artists, and others vital to this economic sector.
A report co-authored and published in August by Richard Florida shows Oklahoma’s creative industries lost more than 19,000 jobs and $606 million in sales from April 1 through July 31 alone. We cannot risk our arts and cultural industry. Broader industry data indicated the fine and performing arts suffered disproportionately, representing up to 50% of job and revenue losses in some areas.
Cultural organizations that weathered the first few months of the pandemic will not have the means to withstand revenue shortfalls in the months ahead. Time is of the essence. Implore Gov. Kevin Stitt and leadership to recognize this sectors value. Immediately allocate state COVID relief money to the arts and culture as part of a long-term economic strategy. Our future depends on it.
Busey is chairman and CEO of Oklahoma City-based DRG and the Busey Group of Companies.