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Why Civic Center Improvements (Proposition 7) matter to opera and arts infrastructure

Painted Sky’s Rob Glaubitz on Proposition 7. Photo provided.
Painted Sky’s Rob Glaubitz on Proposition 7. Photo provided.

Rob Glaubitz

Oklahoma City residents: You may not realize it but the upcoming election on September 12 really matters to the theater community in Oklahoma City and especially to Painted Sky Opera. If you haven’t checked it out yet, Oklahoma City residents vote on several items on September 12, including two sales tax increases and an infrastructure bond package that is funded entirely from property taxes. If you want more info about all the items on the ballot on September 12 (or figure out where to vote), go here.

So, why is this important for supporting opera in Oklahoma City? Well, among the many infrastructure items as a part of the $967 million bond package is an item that has a giant impact on Painted Sky Opera — funding to renovate the Civic Center complex. It’s not a lot — only a little more than 2 percent of the whole package, but it’s long overdue and it’s the only investment in arts infrastructure in this entire bond package. The Civic Center is owned by the public and, as such, definitely falls in the category of public infrastructure in the same way as roads and bridges and parks. Non-profit arts organizations (like Painted Sky Opera) added $602.7 million to the Oklahoma City economy in 2015 according to a recent study conducted by Oklahomans for the Arts and the Civic Center is the largest public venue for non-profit arts organizations. So, it’s definitely worth a small investment to keep that economic impact going.

Have you been in Freede Little Theatre recently? If you attended ‘La Traviata,’ you have been there. I personally love this theatre. It’s great for an opera company in its second year. It has 266 seats and every one of them has a good view of the stage. The acoustics are surprisingly good for opera and it works great for several other theatre companies in Oklahoma City too, including CityRep.

Painted Sky Opera likes the Freede so much that we are producing two shows – “Tosca” and “Three Decembers” — there this year. Most importantly, for us, Freede Little Theatre is the only midsized space in the middle of downtown Oklahoma City with professional theater capability that is readily available and affordable, especially since the demolition of Stage Center in 2014. Without the Freede, I’m honestly not sure exactly where we would put on shows, although we would probably figure it out.

While we love the Freede, everyone agrees that it needs a little…well, let’s say “updating”. In fact, on the survey that we asked our La Traviata patrons to complete, the number one request from all of you was that the space needs a little freshening up. We certainly agree with you. Also, the Civic Center has done a great job with the space, but it isn’t exactly modern in terms of backstage equipment, lighting, or sound.

You haven’t lived until you’ve been hauling sandbags in the fly loft of the Freede trying to raise a fully loaded set of electrics into place. Unfortunately, by those standards, I have lived and was much sorer and sweatier for the experience.

The current state of the Freede Little Theatre is exactly why we think Oklahoma City residents should vote “yes” on the Civic Center complex projects on September 12, because those funds will go partially towards a major makeover for the Freede. The funding from this bond election will make the Freede safer, more comfortable, more aesthetic, more accessible, and more ideal for theatergoers and theater companies alike in Oklahoma City. That’s important if we want Oklahoma City’s vibrant arts community to keep growing. Voting for the bond items on the ballot will not raise your taxes either, since you already pay property taxes if you own a home. All it does is determine how those existing property taxes are spent.

Painted Sky Opera wouldn’t be where we are today without Civic Center Music Hall. Please vote yes on the “Civic Center complex” bond project on the September 12 election to support Painted Sky Opera – and the rest of the arts community – to continue both the cultural and economic impact that the arts has on Oklahoma City.

NOTE: Glaubitz is artistic director for Painted Sky Opera, Oklahoma’s first professional opera company. This analysis is adapted from a recent blot post.

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