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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The City Council of Oklahoma City heard virtual presentations Tuesday on public art, the annual Arts Festival and its new date, new programs coming to Oklahoma City to serve people experiencing poverty, and alternative sentencing in Oklahoma County. 

The Council also unanimously supported a resolution to raise awareness of “period poverty,” a problem that affects women in poverty.

Arts Festival

Oklahoma City’s popular Festival of the Arts, presented by the Arts Council of Oklahoma City, has been happening since 1967. This year, a few things are changing.

The Festival, traditionally occurring in April, is being moved to the dates of June 22 through June 27. In retrospect, this decision saved a lot of disappointment for arts patrons, as the City received a lot of rain during the traditional period of the Festival.

In addition to new dates, this year the Arts Council is expanding the footprint of the festival, as well. This year a stage will be erected on the east side of City Hall, instead of the traditional west side. Couch and Colcord will be closed to through traffic, and there will be food trucks on Latting Circle.

The children’s art area will be much larger this year, using some space that was taken up previously by the stage on the west side of City Hall. The pottery area will be on the lawn at the southwest corner of City Hall this year, offering more space and opportunity.

Some familiar food vendors will be unable to participate this year, after a year of pandemic conditions have limited some’s ability to procure equipment for an outdoor event of this scale this year.

There will be an additional stage in Bicentennial Park for more entertainment options.

Public Art

Robbie Kienzle and Randy Marks, both from the Arts arm of the Planning Department, gave a presentation of upcoming public art pieces.

First of these was a $60,000 increase on the price of a work commissioned by the City for Upper Scissortail Park.

After commissioning the piece, the City learned that the Oklahoma City Thunder had commissioned a similar piece of artwork for the opposite corner near the Arena. The City worked with the artists commissioned for the City’s art piece, and a new concept was reached.

The rendering of the new art piece depicts a large feather that appears to be being blown by the wind. The additional $60,000 is not new funding, but is from a planned overage that was to be used for construction costs. The new contract leaves those costs with the artists.

Another soon to arrive artwork is an original sculpture by a group of artists who will be placing their creation at the Belle Isle Library after construction on that project ends. The sculpture is larger than a person and features a colored glass insert and a quote from the great poet Joy Harjo.

Perle Mesta Park will also be receiving a new sculpture called Deep Roots. The sculpture orms an arch that will be at one end of the stage in the park. The sculpture is provided by a generous bequest from a long-time resident and lover of Mesta Park.

One last large public art piece will be displayed at the Museum of Art downtown. The piece is a gift to the museum in celebration of their 75th anniversary.

Focus on homelessness

Assistant City Manager Aubrey McDermid gave a presentation about a new position coming to Oklahoma City government. The Inasmuch Foundation and the Arnall Family Foundation have each donated $30,000. That $60,000 in conjunction with City funds will be used to create a new position within the Planning Department for a Homeless Strategies Coordinator.

Over the past two years, the Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness has been coordinating with a consultant group to outline strategies and resources geared toward addressing the problem of homelessness in our community.

Service providers, community stakeholders, as well as politicians and police, came to the table with the consulting group. From those meetings and studies, the firm developed 8 categories to address. Each category has multiple strategies to apply.

This amount of new work has necessitated adding a third position in the Planning Department’s Homeless Services wing. The search to fill this role will begin immediately.

point in time homeless count
A man named Johnny is being interviewed by Luke Williams, one of the many volunteers who helped with the point in time count, 2020. (Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

New program

McDermid also shared with the Council that one of the means of those strategies is to welcome to Oklahoma City a new program called A Better Way.

The program, which is credited to Albuquerque, New Mexico, provides a day’s labor for people willing to join. The targeted clientele for the program is mostly people who panhandle as a means to generate income for survival.

A Better Way, which has enjoyed some notoriety as a program of the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma in Tulsa , picks up willing participants three mornings a week. Each participant works on litter abatement or other beautification efforts for a day. They are paid for their day’s work, they receive a meal, and at the end of the day participants meet with case managers or other service providers who can help connect participants with needed relief.

While the program anticipates starting with three days a week, the programming Tulsa is now moving to five days per week, to match demand for the program.

SHINE for OKC gov

SHINE, a program founded by district 2 County Commissioner Brian Maughan, was contracted by the City at Tuesday’s meeting.

SHINE, which stands for Start Helping Impacted Neighborhoods Everywhere, is an alternative sentencing program. Through SHINE, people convicted of low level non-violent crimes may participate in day work at a minimum of four hours per shift. This, according to Maughan, offers a real solution for people with jobs and/or families to keep their lives as undisrupted as possible.

“A parent can drop their kids off at school, come out and work off part of their sentence, then pick their kid up,” Maughan said to Free Press after the recent CJAC meeting. “Or if you were a car salesman, Saturday’s your busiest day. This will allow you to do some shifts on slow days and be at work on Saturday without taking money from your pockets.”

Through the new contract, SHINE participants will provide litter abatement and clean-up on public property in corridors and other “hot spots” identified by City staff as having a high degree of litter.

SHINE will also be able to work on private property for graffiti abatement.

SHINE will not be responsible for clearing out active encampments where people experiencing homelessness are living.

The amount of the contract is $111,900 for the coming year.

Period Poverty

Councilors James Cooper of Ward 2, Ward 6’s JoBeth Hamon, and Nikki Nice of Ward 7 brought forward a resolution at the request of Period OKC.

Hamon explained the resolution, which sought to raise awareness of “period poverty” and to declare the week Period Poverty Awareness Week.

Hamon said that over the years of working in service organizations, the impact of the cost of menstruation products has been a constant. While menstruation products are a medical need, they are still subject to sales taxes in Oklahoma. Sales taxes are a greater burden on people with low or no income than they are for people with greater means.

Period OKC is an organization that has generated and distributed thousands of products for people who menstruate. The products have been given to schools, shelters,community free pantries, et cetera.

Period Poverty affects many people, but the need is not one that is obvious to all. Hamon, Nice, and Cooper asked the Council to get behind this resolution to spread awareness of this need in our community.

The resolution passed unanimously.

The City Council will meet again on Tuesday, June 1, at 8:30 a.m. for their final budget hearing. They meet again for a regular session on Tuesday, June 8, at 8:30 a.m. The June 8 meeting will resume in-person meetings for the Council.

Disclosure: Marty Peercy is the husband of Ward 6 City Council member JoBeth Hamon.

Last Updated May 25, 2021, 3:08 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor