ART OF COMMUNITY BUILDING: BARTLESVILLE

This case study is part of a series investigating the variety of ways that Oklahoma communities invest municipal resources and funding in the arts. These stories illustrate how these investments, big or small, can have a positive impact on citizens, civic pride, tourism, and the general well being of a place.

Community Profile
City Budget (2015-16): $36,402,875
2014 Census Data
Population: 36,595
Median household income: $48,862
Persons in poverty (% of total residents): 15.4%
High School graduate or higher (age 25+): 90.8%
Bachelor’s degree or higher (age 25+): 30.4%
From Local Arts Index
State Arts Agency Grants per county capita (2003-2009): $24.34
Total nonprofit arts organizations per 100,000 county population (2012): 40.63

Links:


The City of Bartlesville understands the value of the arts for cultivating civic pride. And that long-standing disposition among civic leaders and community members has synthesized into a sustainable pro-arts culture in the city.

During Bartlesville’s boom oil years Phillips Petroleum brought substantial wealth to the city, and many residents and city officials wanted to invest in arts and culture to improve the city’s well-being and promote a positive sense of place.

That legacy of the arts in Bartlesville is now ensconced in governmental structure and in physical buildings. In 1982, the city opened the Bartlesville Community Center to the public. And behind the scenes, the Bartlesville Community Center Trust Authority was established to oversee operation and preservation of the center. The center features performance space and a gallery. The Trust Authority’s board includes a member of the city council, who serves as a clear official bridge between city government and the arts and culture community.

Bartlesville Community Center under construction

This infrastructural support is underwritten by a portion of the city’s hotel tax, which is designated for the Community Center’s use. This triangulation of support – infrastructure, space, and money – speaks to the importance of civic pride in arts and culture. Even when Phillips left Bartlesville in 2002, support for arts and culture persisted because it had been woven into the way the city and its citizens thought about themselves and their place.

But there have been changes in Bartlesville as the landscape of public funding in Oklahoma has changed in the last decade. The city provided matching money for the arts while the state arts council provided Local Government Challenge grants, but when this source of funding ended so did the city’s direct contributions. Many communities across the state have similar stories, an important reminder of why city leaders must advocate for substantial appropriations to the Oklahoma Arts Council to improves communities across Oklahoma with the arts.

Bartlesville Public Library, which houses many arts and culture activities

While city government utilizes local buildings in support of the arts and makes the most of the hotel tax , other civic institutions continue using their budgets and programming time to invest in arts and culture. The Bartlesville library provides services like Battle of the Books, Creative Writing Contest, and Local Author Showcase that engage the community in free arts and culture activities.

The pro-arts spirit Bartlesville has cultivated is in part the result of community members’ ability to articulate the civic pride they have in the arts. Identifying articulate, well-connected members of your community to share the message of why the arts are good for the city is one things community members can do to create an arts-friendly environment.

Such intangibles are often the activating force in municipal investment in the arts

*Featured image from OKMozart, Bartlesville’s annual music festival.