Nonprofits stepping up to keep art programs in Oklahoma schools

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OKLAHOMA CITY - As school districts across the state are fighting a $1.3 billion budget shortfall, many art programs are on the line.

Recently, 4,000 students packed the Civic Center to see Peter Pan.

It marks the end of a two-month program by the Oklahoma City Ballet to encourage children to get interested in the arts.

"I think that's so important, because there are studies that have shown, if a child has not been exposed to an art form by the age of 10, there's less than 1 percent chance that they'll be a patron of that art form later in life,” said Shane Jewell, executive director of the Oklahoma City Ballet.

The ArtsReach program teaches the history, techniques and terminology of ballet to children all around the state.

"I'm speechless. I can't say nothing. I just like it," said Dasiya Jones, first grader at Crutcho Public Schools.

Jones started dancing before she was 2, and it quickly became one of her favorite things to do.

"It's exciting. We mostly get to have fun. It's mostly fun because, when you're doing something, it makes you happy," Jones said.

With the budget shortfall, some districts, including Oklahoma City, said cuts to fine arts and music are likely.

"Especially, in these days and times, when so many arts programs get cut with budget cuts, we take every opportunity we can to let our children get exposed to the arts,” said Teresa Mcafee, superintendent at Crutcho Public Schools.

A survey released last week by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association said educators are "reducing or eliminating arts and athletics programs," but art curriculum has proven to decrease the dropout rate.

Studies show music and theater studies correlate to higher achievements in reading and math.

"It really falls on the arts nonprofit organizations to really do what we can do to fill the gap and make sure that children still get some kind of engagement with the arts," Jewell said.

The Oklahoma Arts Council, an organization that helps funds arts programs, has had 40 percent of its funding cut in the last seven years.

Oklahoma City Public Schools have a board meeting scheduled for April 25.

They are set to announce the specific program cuts at that meeting.