CONTRIBUTING TO DEMOCRACY
This summer I spent one day a week in Oklahoma City, interning for Oklahomans For The Arts (OFTA).
I had wanted the position because I felt that working at OFTA would combine my interest in politics with my love of art. Though I was excited to begin the internship, I had no idea what to expect.
Looking back, I see my experience was even more fulfilling than I could have imagined. My time at OFTA was spent busily; I helped around the office, worked on data entry and attended several meetings. But the internship was also incredibly enriching and informing. I can confidently say that I come away from it all having learned more about the political system, state elections, and, of course, art.
I’ve always had an interest in politics, but when the presidential primaries started this year my interest became focused on the science of it, what politicians do to win specific demographics, why speeches are written in certain ways and so forth.
I started checking statisticians’ websites to see the likelihood of certain events and through this I got frustrated. I would see the numbers and percentages predicting who would win in my home state and feel like I, as an underage citizen, had no control over any of it.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think fifteen year olds should vote, but since I had grown incredibly invested, it was hard to feel so useless. To remedy this, I phone banked a little for a candidate, but as a busy student there was only so much I could do.
My summer internship at Oklahomans For The Arts taught me about how many ways I could contribute to democracy even without being able to vote.
As mentioned above, one of my main tasks each week was data entry. In May, OFTA sent out surveys to all the candidates for the Oklahoma House and Senate, and I logged the responses into the computer. The information received from these surveys was later compiled and made available to citizens so they could be better informed when voting.
It felt good to be able to help people make informed decisions based on issues that matter, especially in a state election in which information is not always easily accessible.
Through working with the candidate surveys, I was also reminded of the importance of these state and local elections. I had spent the previous year so distracted by the presidential primaries that I hadn’t paid attention to the other races. I’m ashamed to admit that for a while I didn’t realize there were Oklahoma state elections happening in November.
Through my work at OFTA, I realized how much happens at a state and local level, especially in a field like art, which also depends on quality education.
Over the course of the summer, my internship taught me a lot things, big and small– like the fact that you can print envelope labels on a copier, that committee meetings are not conducted using parliamentary procedure, and that beautiful stamps with drawings of fabulous ’60s musicians on them cost the same as the less interesting, but more commonplace, flag stamps.
While I will almost definitely use this knowledge again, perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that art plays a crucial role in our state. While I worked this summer to provide valuable information about art, I didn’t work directly with the arts. In fact it was easy for me to loose sight of why OFTA was doing what we were doing.
>So it wasn’t while working at OFTA, but rather while visiting Quartz Mountain, where my brother had just finished Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute, that I was reminded about the power of arts programs.
It was seeing him and the other participants present their work, and talking to my friend Jamie, who proclaimed her weeks at OAI as the best of her life, that reminded me how much of a difference art can make. If I take anything away from my experience as an intern (and if anyone takes anything away from this post) it should be that art is universal and life-changing.
Being able to help enhance and widen its presence in our state was eye-opening and an experience I will never forget.
Mira Alpers is a tenth grade Norman native who is very passionate about social change and the arts. Mira attends Chatham Hall, an All-Girls College prepratory boarding school, and participates in the school’s theatre and choral programs. Oklahomans for the Arts welcomes intern applications at any time.