By Laurie Burstein
Arts and cultural institutions generate
big dollars for the economy; in turn, key groups support the
It’s well-known that sports are a big part of the St. Louis
region’s economy, but a surprising study published in June confirms
that the arts have a comparable (or even greater) impact on
the area economy. In fact, this national study conducted by
the Regional Arts Commission (RAC) in partnership with Americans
for the Arts, concluded that the economic and job impact from
148 St. Louis area arts and cultural organizations exceeded
those of St. Louis’ three major league sports franchises—The
Cardinals, The Blues and The Rams.
The survey indicates that in 2005 (year on which the study was
based), area residents spent $561.2 million related to the arts,
and this spending supported 18,537 jobs. Of the total amount
generated, $277 million comes from spending by the organizations
and $284.2 million comes from event-related direct and indirect
spending by their audiences and visitors.
“This study confirms that the arts are a growth industry in
St. Louis, adding jobs and revenue to the local economy,” says
Jill McGuire, executive director, Regional Arts Commission (RAC).
“We also know that the arts are an important factor in attracting
skilled and professional workers who want to live in a vibrant
region. Once again, we have proof that supporting the arts is
a savvy investment for our future growth.”
While the arts mean big business in terms of economic impact,
local artists and arts organizations rely heavily on key organizations
who lend support in a number of vital and innovative ways.
The organization that conducted the study, RAC, has had a big
impact on supporting the arts throughout the St Louis region.
Since it’s inception in 1985, RAC has given more than $60 million
in grant awards and is the largest annual funder of the arts,
having awarded close to 5,000 grants during the last 22 years.
This year alone, 209 arts groups received more than $3.5 million
RAC’s budget comes from revenues generated by a hotel/motel
room sales tax in St. Louis City and County.
McGuire says that the 2007/2008 grants roster reveals notable
trends within the arts community, including strategic collaborations
among institutions, an ongoing commitment to diverse programming,
and expansion in program offerings for mid-sized organizations.
Unique this year is a significant growth in opera and theater
in general. One of the highlights is the opera program offered
by the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club in Partnership with
the Opera Theatre of St. Louis. The program has introduced 500
children to the world of opera since it began in 1997. From
writing the music to designing the costumes and the set, the
RAC grant made it possible for young students to create a unique
“Each year, our citizen panels, staff and commissioners have
demonstrated a commitment to the support of a wide array of
arts programs and organizations, large and small, new and continuing,”
The Arts and Education Council is the other key organization
helping the arts to thrive throughout the region. Founded in
1963, the Council has raised more than $92 million through private
donations, these philanthropic resources have been distributed
to local arts organizations in 16 counties in Missouri and Illinois.
In 2006, the Council distributed $1.5 million in grants with
a modest increase in 2007.
This year, the Council took on one of the most important endeavors
in its history—establishing a unique arts incubator in Grand
Center. The Centene Center for Arts and Education (CCAE) houses
14 arts organizations under one roof, creating an exceptional
synergy within the building, says Jim Weidman, president of
the Arts and Education Council.
Weidman notes, “After 44 years, the Arts and Education Council
has its first home—the Centene Center for Arts and Education.
“This project is a wonderful example of collaboration in its
creation and use by 14 arts organizations that share the building,
taking advantage of the office, rehearsal, storage, box office
and meeting space as well as sophisticated technology,” Weidman
“This facility allows the Council the opportunity to expand
on its mission of providing support and advocacy for the arts
in the St. Louis metropolitan area,” Weidman says. “The Centene
Center for Arts and Education is also unique in its mission
to facilitate the management of the arts. By having the opportunity
to share ideas and space, area arts organizations are revolutionizing
and revitalizing the business of the arts and art management.”
Weidman adds that the Center is getting national attention,
with other cities coming to visit and set up similar arts incubators
in their communities.
In addition to funding from RAC and the Arts and Education Council,
artists and arts organizations can get free legal and financial
advice from the St. Louis Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants
for the Arts (VLAA).
Now in its 25th year, the VLAA provides free, arts-related legal
and accounting assistance to artists and arts organizations
who are unable to afford such professional assistance. More
than 200 volunteer lawyers and accountants assist photographers,
painters, musicians, filmmakers, graphic artists, dancers, theater
companies and many others with everything from obtaining nonprofit
tax exempt status, to negotiating contracts, to developing bookkeeping
“It is very important for artists and arts organizations to
know how to protect their rights and develop sound business
practices,” says Jim Reeves, president of the VLAA’s Board of
Directors and a fulltime mediator and law professor at Washington
The VLAA also sponsors a wide range of affordable educational
programs and workshops which are becoming increasingly popular,
says Reeves. “Our focus is to educate artists so they can avoid
legal and financial difficulties. Our seminars are very well
attended and cover a variety of topics ranging from intellectual
property and trademarks, to contract negotiation and music law.
Managing the business side of the arts is something every artist
needs to know about,” he says.
With groups like RAC, the A & E Council and the VLAA investing
in the arts, a healthy arts community is able to grow which,
in turn, provides jobs and stimulates the economy. The arts
are an important part of the mix that makes the St. Louis region’s
quality of life competitive in attracting companies, venture
capital, and talent. The arts are part of our economic future
and enrich our quality of life.