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INVESTING IN THE ARTS

By Laurie Burstein

Arts and cultural institutions generate big dollars for the economy; in turn, key groups support the arts.

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 in funding.

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 opera production.

“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,” says McGuire.

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 says.

“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 systems.

“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 University.

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.

 

 

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