Art Cotton is Central’s new vice president for Advancement and president of the UCO Foundation.
With more than 30 years of experience ranging from development to external relations, Art Cotton has taken the reins of the University of Central Oklahoma Office for Advancement. The enigmatic leader has a passion for higher education and the drive to elevate Central’s clout. The Tulsa native spent his early days playing basketball and enjoyed every subject at Jenks High School. Upon graduation, he pursued a bachelor’s degree in political science followed by a master’s in civil and environmental engineering and a master’s in public administration, all from Oklahoma State University. Cotton sought to develop his leadership skills and further his engagement with the community through Leadership Oklahoma (Class II). There, his connections led him to become chief of staff for Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Jack Mildren. In the following years, life steered him into the world of fundraising and development, and his momentum is only building.
Q: How did you enter into the fundraising arena?
A: When I was working at The Benham Group, I participated in Leadership Tulsa. As part of the program, you connect with a nonprofit. At my nonprofit, I was given the assignment to create a development committee to raise money. That’s how I got my first taste of fundraising.
Q: What has kept you in fundraising?
A: For me, I care deeply about education. Education is the great equalizer. Education is the only thing that breaks the chain of poverty, incarceration rates, mental illness, domestic violence… to me, it’s a big deal.
Q: What is your favorite part about being at Central?
A: All the interactions I’ve had here feel like a family. I’m not enjoying it; I’m loving it. I’ve been embraced and truly feel like part of the family. UCO is right in the sweet spot. We care about the students, we care about the faculty and staff, and that says a lot about who we are.
Q: What is one of your top career achievements?
A: My career high is giving opportunities to students to go to school and get an education. For students to have the potential for a career and a happy life, that’s why people are involved with higher education. I don’t look at it like dollars; after a while, it’s all zeroes. It’s about changing lives. My wife, Sandy, and I have an endowment at the Oklahoma Arts Institute at Quartz Mountain that provides funding for students to attend the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute. The endowment was set up in honor of my late son, Harrison, who had a passion for art. To get to see these students have the opportunity to attend the summer institute… to get to be themselves, on a personal level, it means a lot.
Q: What are your hopes for Central?
A: I have inherited a really good department with good people, which allows us to go from success to significance. One of my goals is to establish enough endowments so every student who wants to go to school can. Creating a large endowment for us will allow us to weather pandemics and economic downturns. Fundraising is what I love doing; I do not take myself seriously but I take what I do very seriously.
Q: What do you do in your spare time?
A: Sandy and I enjoy travel. Our favorite destinations are New York City, Napa Valley, Santa Fe and Las Vegas. I am already looking forward to celebrating a big anniversary for us with a trip to Napa. Sandy is the love of my life and is also a great fundraiser. She’s an executive director at a nonprofit, but most importantly – she makes me better at everything I do. She makes me a better human being.