Oklahoma Israel Exchange (OKIE) honors Betty Price, promotes cultural exchanges

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 10-Dec-2010

Betty Price, former Executive Director of the Oklahoma Arts Council (OAC), was honored with the “Life, Legacy and Light Award” last night (Thursday, December 9) at the Skirvin Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City. Price described the honor as “a high point in my life in the arts.” Sponsoring the gala evening was the OKlahoma Israel Exchange (OKIE).

Price served 33 years at the council. When she retired, Price was named an “Icon of the Arts.” The Legislature named a first floor state Capitol Gallery in her honor.

Price has been involved with OKIE since its founding in 1982.

In an interview today (Friday, December 10) with CapitolBeatOK, Price said, “The relationship that Oklahoma shares with Israel is remarkable. My first experience was to go to Israel as a guest of their government to survey the performing arts. I traveled to various cities where the talent was extraordinary.”

She added, “Thursday evening was a high point in my life in the arts, and I’m extremely grateful.”

Former Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor introduced Price to the crowd gathered at the Skirvin. Taylor said, “If it is drawn, danced, played, or photographed, Betty has been the light and the leader to insure it is supported.” Concerning “arts advocacy,” Taylor asserted Price “invented the concept and should patent the process. She was the reason the Art in Public Places Act came into being, and she has worked with the office of the Lieutenant Governor and for seven Governors.”

Those executives include Gov. George Nigh, who attended Thursday’s event. Taylor and other speakers at the event made a point to also praise Price’s family, including her husband, Norris.

In addition to her service on most statewide arts support organizations, Taylor noted, Price garnered national recognition when she was named “State Arts Agency Director of the Year” by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies in Washington, D.C.

Specifically in terms of OKIE’s cultural exchange efforts, Price collaborated with the HED music school in Tel Aviv and with Oklahoma City University in establishing student-faculty exchanges and joint degrees. She helped organized a variety of exhibits, concerts, dance and theatrical presentations, and was an advisor to the “Spirit of Jerusalem” photography exhibit.

On behalf of OKIE, Mayor Taylor presented Price a hard-crafted fused glass menorah by Israeli artist Tamar Baskin. Taylor said the work reflected “the effervescent spirit of you, Hanukah, and Christmas. This is the season of bright lights for all of us, and your life truly mirrors light, leadership, and legacy.”

A series of speakers figuratively sang Price’s praises, including Susan Robertson, executive director of OKIE, who said, “From the first, Betty’s enthusiasm and tireless efforts sparked the flame of OKIE’s creative endeavors. And she continued to support and help guide our programs.”

Other speakers included Manuel Prestamo, founder of Oklahoma City Community College’s Cultural Awareness Series and member of OKIE’s Board and Cultural Committee.  Concerning Price, he said that through “her ability to breath life into the sister-state relationship between Oklahoma and Israel, she has given audiences a memorable taste of the culture of an entire country from the comfort of their seats, across the imaginary magic screen of the transparent foot lights – a taste that can momentarily transport the viewer to the world of the performer and permanently transform the viewer. I personally will never forget the 1998 Israeli performance of ‘Haberera Hativ’it’ in the OCCC auditorium.”

Marcin Parys, a pianist studying at Oklahoma City University, performed at the OKIE dinner. Expressing gratitude for OKIE programs were students, including Taylor Fogle from Bartlesville.

Fogle expressed appreciation for the OKIE trips to Israel, saying, “While on this amazing adventure, we toured many, many museums.  I learned a lot, but I learned most about the Israelis’ unwavering respect for military service. They hold their soldiers in such high regard, as well as their country.  I have learned so much through this program, and I cherish this experience.  It helped me to acquire a new perspective on life and the world around me; as well as a greater sense of pride in America and forever connected my heart to Israel.”

Melissa Neel, another student, said she was humbled, in the course of her trip to Israel, “by the rich heritage and history that the sacred land of Israel holds for so many people of so many faiths, including me.” Neel said she treasured, “walking the grounds where King David lived, visiting the Dome of the Rock where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac, gazing on the Mount of Olives that served as a place for religious study thousands of years ago, remembering the hundreds of prayers lovingly placed in the Western Wall and offered in hallowed silence in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.”

Also hailing the OKIE programs were local journalist Vicki Gourley and businessman Jim Tolbert. Gourley listed “top 10 reasons to visit Israel,” while Tolbert served as moderator of the evening’s festivities.

A guest of honor at the event honoring Price was Meir Shlomo, consul general from Israel’s office in Houston, Texas. In an interview with CapitolBeatOK, he expressed deep appreciation for the work of groups like OKIE.

Shlomo observed, “This was an extraordinary evening. I was expecting just another dinner event, but this was fabulous. To hear these young people share their experiences in Israel, and this fine artist who performed, I was impressed. Instead of people like me talking, these were citizens giving great thoughtfulness while articulating their support for Israel.”

The Jewish Federations of Oklahoma City and Tulsa created OKIE during Governor David Walters’ administration (1991-95). The group became a 501(c )(3) in 1997, during the administration of Governor Frank Keating. Governor Brad Henry has also been active in support OKIE. Incoming Governor Mary Fallin is a strong supporter of close ties between the two states.

The mission of OKIE is described as “to foster enhanced cooperation between the peoples, governments, and private and public sectors of Oklahoma and Israel in culture, education, agriculture and commerce.”