Why a Big Education Funder in Oklahoma Gave $1 Million for an Art Building

The Oklahoma City-based Kirkpatrick Foundation gives more money to education than anything else per year, with at least 35 percent of its support going toward education causes. So why did this regional funder celebrate its 60th anniversary with an arts gift?

In a word: history.

John and Eleanor Kirkpatrick, the founders, were huge supporters of the arts during their lifetimes. John organized the Oklahoma Science and Arts Foundation in 1959, for example. The foundation has a long history of donating to arts buildings, dating back as far as 1958, when it gave $250,000 toward the building of the Oklahoma Arts Center on the state fairgrounds. Eleanor was deeply interested in the arts and attended auctions to begin a collection as far back as the 1930s. She supported the very first Oklahoma City art gallery in the 1930s, the Oklahoma Art Center, the first Oklahoma City Beaux Arts Ball, and the Kirkpatrick Fine Arts Auditorium located at Oklahoma City University.

To celebrate its 60th anniversary, the Kirkpatrick Foundation committed $1 million to the Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center. This money will be going toward a new building at 11th and Broadway in the downtown area. A $500 contribution was also made for every guest in attendance to a charitable organization of his or her choice. Forty-four past and present foundation board members were in attendance.

Otherwise around town, the foundation has made news this year for its support of Lyric’s production of A Christmas Carol and hosting an animal conference to discuss current and future trends affecting animals. The foundation also recently supported Oklahoma Watch, a journalism nonprofit, to offer community forums on quality-of-life issues facing the state.

So it appears that the Kirkpatrick Foundation is quite well-rounded in its giving and can’t really be categorized as an “education funder,” after all. Because of the importance of art to the founders, the trustees really pay attention to the local art scene and arts and culture outfits in town. Sure, big names like the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art receive support, but so do smaller groups across a wide range of dance, theater, music and visual mediums. Engaging and enriching art education programs also often cross this funder’s radar.

“Building, supporting, and developing the artistic and cultural activities of our city has been a longstanding priority of the work we do,” says Executive Director Louisa McCune-Elmore. “Moving forward, we will explore the many ways in which we can serve existing efforts in the arts. We believe that connecting Oklahomans to art will enrich minds young and old and make central Oklahoma a wonderful place to live.”

To learn more about this local funder, check out IP’s full profile of the Kirkpatrick Foundation