RAC's Artists Count and new funding directions proclaim 'art is everywhere'
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 5, 2013 - Bill Cleveland is a musician and author of four books who lives on an island near Seattle. As he walked onto the stage of the Sheldon Concert Hall last night, he was singing to a crowd of roughly 500 people.
“Art is everywhere! Art is everywhere!” Cleveland sang, striding on stage. “Some can’t people think you can’t beat the Devil with a song!”
The audience cheered with approval.
Cleveland was not there to perform but as executive director of the Seattle Area Center for the Community and Arts and the adviser behind the Regional Arts Commission "Artists Count," a voluntary census filled out by regional artists across the St. Louis area.
The census results
- Give a snaphot of where artists work and live in the region -- and how they support their art
- Led to RAC to rethink its grant programs, starting programs that will give fellowship to individual artists.
Clusters of artists
Designed to demystify where and how artists live in the St. Louis region, the findings included information about
- where artists are clustered in the highest proportions: Maplewood, near Cherokee Street, around the central core of downtown and Richmond Heights.
- how they make their money (79 percent of responding artists supplement their income with outside work, with a strong contingent of working in education)
- and their basic motivations (nearly 90 percent pointed to the creative process as their “prime motivation”),
- among a bevy of other statistics from the seven-page survey filled out by 3,000 artists.
"Artists individually are kind of invisible. All these questions of 'how actually do you work,' or 'how do you earn a living,' or what are the different strategies that artists use to find time and resources and collaborators and space to make work [were unanswered]," Cleveland said. "Now we've begun the process of pulling the curtain back on that."
Funds for individuals
With the new data in hand, RAC announced a new series of funds available to local artists: 10 annual $20,000 fellowship funds for St. Louis City and County artists selected by a new RAC committee headed by Freida Wheaton and Nancy Kranzberg, as well as $75,000 to be split into several smaller grants of $500 to $3,000 for area artists.
"We're not only about the person who plays at the symphony. We're about the person who plays in a band, or in a trio. We wanted to really broaden the depth of creatives," said Jill McGuire, executive director of the Regional Arts Commission.
Awards to individual artists represents a departure from RAC’s and other organizations typical giving, in which funds are rarely doled out directly to individual artists.
"In the past, [RAC] as a funder has not funded individual artists directly. That's not to say we haven't funded artists; we funded lots of them clearly through our non-profit work. But this is the first time that we are establishing specific funding for individual artists," McGuire said.
RAC's new avenue of funding, was largely informed by research that shows the embedded arts -- think an artist with a living room gallery, or a grassroots organization based out of a small community garden -- are vital to community vibrancy, be it economic, social or cultural vibrancy.
The notion of an artist holed up in his or her studio is "completely wrong," Cleveland added, noting that an artist's work reverberates throughout his or her physical and social communities.
The RAC executive summary of the Artists Count included a citation to the Social Impact of the Arts Project from the University of Pennsylvania, a research group from Penn's School of Social Policy and Practice that is a leading institution on researching the ecosystems of artists, their work and their communities.
In "Cultural Clusters: The Implications of Cultural Assets Agglomeration for Neighborhood Revitalization," Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert of Penn write:
"This article proposes a way of thinking about cultural districts as organically linked to the economic and social life of cities and their neighborhoods. We argue that culture can revive urban economies, not by placing a shiny veneer over crumbling decay, but by using the arts to engage community residents and revitalize their neighborhoods."
"We live in a society that tends to classify vocation and avocation in terms of economics alone, which is a sort of 20th century conceit," Cleveland said. "There's an increasing understanding that when you get a critical mass, high concentrations of artists in particular areas, there's something going on in there that actually accrues to a healthier community."
Through the census, "we get a sense of where there's organically clustering groups of artists. That's a cultural development opportunity," Cleveland said.
And by giving money directly to artists, RAC hopes to encourage that organic growth.
Given that 79 percent of responding artists work second jobs and 46 percent make less than $25,000 a year, RAC's new method of funding demonstrates a commitment to the artist as individual, self-sustaining "small businesses," McGuire said.
Artists are "an enterprising and resourceful community resource that, particularly in the evolving economy of self-organized, entrepreneurial folks are a model. They're highly trained and given the market that exists, do an amazing job of finding the resources they need," Cleveland said.
Embracing, counting community
Liz Krinsky, a metalsmith, jeweler and photographer who moved back to St. Louis recently after 26 years in Houston, Cleveland and Cincinnatti, said that the Count’s finding and grants offered a chance at greater cohesion in the St. Louis community.
"Whatever we create now is what we're leaving future generations. Maybe someone a thousand years from now will be able to tell something about who we are and what we are by what we create," Krinsky said.
"I hope it gives the city a chance to embrace us. We're willing to give something of ourselves to this city."
To capture more artists like Krinsky, who heard about the artist count from a friend and filled the sheet out on a whim, McGuire said that the Artists Count will remain open through 2013, to help further ensure that a wider population of working artists are included as the word spreads.
"With reopening this survey, and seeing if we can't capture -- I shouldn't put a number to it, but I want -- another 3,000," McGuire said, noting that she hoped future surveys would capture more information from underrepresented areas in the region.
Back at the Sheldon, the lights went up on the crowd and Cleveland left the stage. Attendees filtered out of the seats and, as could be expected, gathered around the Sheldon’s lobby bar. Amid the din of the crowd, a man started clapping, and Cleveland’s sing-songy “Art is Everywhere” chant filled the crowded room once again.
To view the results of the survey or to fill out the Artists Count survey, visit the RAC Artists Count website.