OKLAHOMA CITY — The Muskogee Little Theatre organizers worked hard to ensure that the Tulsa Ballet would travel to bring the magic of “Peter and the Wolf” to Muskogee schoolchildren during the day and power of dance to the community in the evening.
Coni Wetz, executive director of the theater, said her organization lined up a matching $20,000 federal grant designed to help bring art programs to rural communities.
With the apparent funding secured, the ballet was hired and performance dates were set.
Wetz learned this week that those plans may be in jeopardy.
“I may lose a $20,000 grant,” she said.
The theater group was among 38 Oklahoma fine arts organizations that received word this week that a total of more than $595,000 in promised — and expected — grant payments are on hold because of the ongoing partial federal government shutdown. It has lasted more than a month now with no apparent end in sight as Congress and President Donald Trump continue to bicker over funding a $5 billion border wall.
The ongoing shutdown has shuttered the National Endowment for the Arts, and its employees are among the hundreds of thousands currently furloughed, officials said.
The federal agency currently provides about 20 percent of the Oklahoma Arts Council’s budget. The Arts Council then distributes federal funding to Oklahoma organizations that promote the arts.
“As a result of the shutdown, please be advised that your midyear payment will be delayed for an undetermined amount of time,” wrote Amber Sharples, the Arts Council executive director, in a letter to affected Oklahoma organizations.
Those delays will continue even after the shutdown ends due to a backlog in work, she said.
Sharples said she highly recommended that organizations “consider the implications of this delay and plan accordingly.”
In all, Wetz’s Muskogee organization, which also hosts educational programs, stage productions, camps and acting lessons, was expecting about $19,000 in funds. She said the delay will have a major impact on the organization.
“I feel sorry for organizations like us in rural America that count on that money,” she said. “We’re a nonprofit organization, and we need help.”
Darcy Reeves, executive director of the Chisholm Trail Arts Council in Duncan, said her group expects to receive about $18,000 in grant funding for the entire year. Half of that arrives every February so that the organization can pay deposits to book performers for the upcoming season.
“We do rely on it heavily,” she said.
Now Reeves has to tell performers that deposits will be delayed due to the shutdown.
“We’re just crossing our fingers that everything is resolved quickly and the funding process isn’t backlogged too far back,” Reeves said.
Norman H. Hammon, director of development for Norman’s Jazz in June Inc., which offers free public jazz concerts. Hammon said the group, which has been around for more than three decades, has weathered government shutdowns before.
“We know that public money can sometimes be tied up for various reasons such as what’s happening now,” he said.
The group is expecting to receive a grant of a little more than $15,000, which will comprise about 10 percent of the overall budget. But as most of those funds are typically spent in May and June, he said his group could afford to wait.
“It’s an inconvenience at this point,” Hammon said. “We hope it won’t become a problem.”
Douglas Shaw Elder, executive director of Norman Firehouse Art Center, said the delay is placing more strain on non-profits.
“We have prepared, and we will be OK, but it does in fact make us rethink all of our programs,” he said.
Elder said his organization is waiting on more than $15,000, which is used to help fund children’s art education and programs for older adults with disabilities.
“Our hope is that people will do the right thing, and we’ll get the government back together here,” he said.