Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa

The morning I spoke with Ken Busby, executive director of the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa (AHCT), he had squeezed me in between coffee with a board member and a visit to a local high school. Using the words “tireless,” “passionate” and “knowledgeable” may seem a little trite when describing a community leader, but they certainly fit Busby.

Newly elected to the national nonprofit Arts Education Council of Americans for the Arts, Busby will be taking his expertise and energy for the advancement of the arts to a national level.

“I’m excited about the position because it will bring additional national attention to Oklahoma,” Busby said.

Americans for the Arts is the leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts in America. The Arts Education Council represents the Arts Education Network, a segment of the professional members of Americans for the Arts, who work to improve access to and quality of arts education.

“We talk about public funding for the arts and advocate for groups like the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA),” Busby said. “The private sector is already funding the arts. What public funding does is serve as a catalyst for private dollars. For every public dollar [given to support the arts], another $8 is given by private donors. It’s hugely important [to have public funding].”

Busby said that arts education not only improves the quality of people’s lives, but also gives young people a creative outlet and helps them develop skills in non-artistic areas. The arts can give many students a reason to come to school, Busby pointed out. “So many studies show that arts education improves students’ performance in areas such as math, science and verbal and written communication.”

Arts’ education is also important in preparing students for the workforce. “CEO’s of businesses have said that they need a well-rounded workforce of people who have analytical thinking skills and are capable of creative planning,” Busby said. “All things that art education does. When the arts are cut, the workforce is not as well-prepared in these important areas.”

The Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa provides educational opportunities in the arts throughout Tulsa County. For example, Artists in the Schools and the Harwelden Institute for teachers are both provided by AHCT. And the organization has community partnerships to provide art experiences at agencies such as the Laura Dester Shelter and Phoenix Rising.

Busby is also an advocate for public art. “It’s such a small part of a city, state or national budget, but has such a huge return,” he said. “Nationally, the arts – theatre, music, visual arts – are a $6 billion industry. The return on investment is $16 for every $1 invested. In comparison, sports has a return of $3 for every $1 invested.”

The part the arts play in economic development cannot be underestimated. “Convention business is huge for any community,” Busby said. “When people come to your city, they need something to do. And with social media and the rise of the creative class, more and more highly educated workers can choose where they want to live, and they choose places with a high quality of life. Cities can play up their museums, historic sites. Tulsa has it in spades – we have something for everyone.”

Busby said with his new position with Americans for the Arts, he is giving Oklahoma a voice. “I’m taking our city and our state to say, ‘We’re at the table.’ I can speak up for Middle America. We’ve got good things happening here and we have something to contribute to the national dialog.”

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