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St. Louis-area arts leaders say study will show economic strength of the arts

Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis President and CEO Vanessa Cooksey was all smiles as she announced $1.15 in new funding at the Artists First gallery in Maplewood on Wednesday.
Jeremy D. Goodwin
St. Louis Public Radio
Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis President and CEO Vanessa Cooksey said the new report will be critical for St. Louis arts organizations, especially after the pandemic halted performances for more than a year.

A national nonprofit is returning to St. Louis to again study the financial impact of arts organizations on the region.

Members of about 300 arts organizations gathered Tuesday at the Sheldon Concert Hall and Art Galleries for the launch of the Arts and Economic Prosperity study. Americans for the Arts will study spending by the region's art organizations and survey the audience at events to gauge how they contribute to the St. Louis economy.

Results of the study will be released next September. It follows the organization’s 2017 report, which found that the arts contributed nearly $600 million to the region during fiscal 2015, said Randy Cohen, vice president of Americans for the Arts.

“That supports 19,129 jobs across the St. Louis region,” Cohen said. “So the arts — food for the soul — also putting food on the table for close to 20,000 people.”

Cohen said his nonprofit organization will make a concerted effort this year to include more communities and groups of color. The survey has been translated into 23 languages. The organization also will work with the Regional Arts Commission to collect survey results from events across the region.

Arts leaders said the new study will show government officials and arts donors the benefits of a thriving arts scene.

“[The study] is mission critical for RAC, said Vanessa Cooksey, president and CEO of the Regional Arts Commission, “By partnering with Americans for the Arts since its first study more than 25 year ago, RAC has been able to calculate the economic impact of the arts and culture sector of this region.”

The study follows a tumultuous couple of years for arts organizations that had to shutter their doors to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

“RAC has a $14.7 million revenue gap because our primary source of funds are hotel/motel sales tax, '' Cooksey said. “So while it’s better today than it was two years ago, we’re not there yet.”

Last fall, more than 100 local arts organizations sent a letter to city and county officials requesting federal relief funds to support artists, theaters and arts organizations hurt by the pandemic. If approved, a $1.6 million bill in St. Louis County and a$10.6 million bill in St. Louis would go toward the Regional Arts Commission. The money would then be distributed to grants and funding for arts organizations and artists.

RAC already has collected data on the region's arts groups, and the initial results show smaller organizations are still hurting, Cooksey said.

“These artists may be one-person arts organizations that are volunteers, and so it was already a challenge,” Cooksey said. “You add COVID and the economy and it makes it even harder. For larger arts organizations, the nature of how people engage in the arts has changed so they’re having to be more creative. While live performances are back, audiences aren’t at full capacity.”

RAC will create a research and evaluation department after the study is complete to provide arts organizations with an annual update.

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.