In one of the most impactful moments in the organization’s history, the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis (RAC) is receiving $10.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding as a result of the passage of Board Bill #66, which received unanimous support from the City of St. Louis’ Board of Aldermen.
RAC President and CEO Vanessa Cooksey, Mayor Tishaura Jones, Alderman Dan Guenther of Ward 9, who introduced the Board Bill, Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard of Ward 26, RAC Commissioners and staff, and local artists gathered at The Luminary, an arts center and RAC grantee on Cherokee Street, to celebrate this milestone event.
“This is a full circle moment for our organization because RAC was born out of residents voting for the arts,” said Cooksey, who expressed humility and gratitude during her remarks while emphasizing how the arts are a crucial engine for economic growth and community enrichment.
The arts create jobs for St. Louis citizens, sales for local restaurants and shops, clients for small businesses, and help fill up hotels and Airbnbs. They bring more than 12 million visitors to events and shows throughout the region every year – more than all professional and collegiate sports combined.
For the last 37 years, RAC has given more than 7,000 grants worth over $100 million to build a truly regional arts and culture community. “A thriving arts sector is critical to our region’s current and future growth,” Cooksey explained. “For decades, RAC has infused capital into our vibrant arts and culture scene, making St. Louis a great place to live, work, and visit.”
The ARPA funding comes at a critical time following a dramatic downturn for the arts and culture sector brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite their own challenges, artists and creatives brought people together, provided inspiration, and offered much-needed, healthy escapes from daily concerns. During this time, RAC lost more than 60% of its singular revenue source from the hotel/motel sales tax. While revenues for RAC and the arts community have rebounded some from where they were two years ago, a long road to recovery is still ahead and this funding is needed now.
As the largest public funder of the arts in St. Louis, RAC is eager to get to work putting resources in the hands of artists and arts organizations that continue to lift the region. Of the $10.6 million that has been entrusted to RAC for the next three years beginning in 2023, they plan to distribute more than 80% of that amount in the first year alone. There are specific guidelines on how the funding is to be used in St. Louis City, and RAC is dedicated to transparent, frequent, clear communication to ensure all grant recipients receive and properly use the funds.
“This is a joyous occasion not just for RAC, but for artists and arts organizations in the City of St. Louis, who will directly benefit from this vital funding and make our region even more vibrant as a result,” said Cheryl D.S. Walker, RAC Board Chair. “We celebrate with our entire creative community that made this historic day possible.”
Grant opportunities utilizing ARPA funds are expected to be available through RAC in summer 2023. However, the organization recently provided updates on granting opportunities for St. Louis City and County artists and arts organizations through their typical funding process. Information and schedules regarding general operating support, program support grants, and artist support grants can be found on the 2023 grantmaking updates webpage.
“It is truly an historic day, and we are so proud to be a part of it. St. Louis City residents have spoken, setting the stage for the arts to continue to be an ongoing priority in our incredible City. RAC will make a tangible, positive and lasting difference that continues to move our City forward,” said Vanessa Cooksey, RAC President and CEO.
Cooksey was sure to acknowledge the outpouring of community support and action that led to this landmark occasion, including:
- The hundreds of arts organizations and artists, whose passionate advocacy helped secure this funding – with special acknowledgement to Lisa Melandri, Peter Palermo, Kwofe Coleman, Sue Greenberg, and Joan Lipkin.
- Mayor Jones, Alderman Guenther, Alderwoman Clark Hubbard, and Alderwoman Davis, who led this legislative effort that gained support from all the elected officials that co-sponsored and approved Board Bill #66.
- All St. Louis residents that answering the call and voiced overwhelming support for the arts, listing them as a top priority in citizen surveys and in town halls.
- RAC’s Commissioners and team members for their partnership and support throughout this 18-months-long process – with special thanks to Cheryl D.S. Walker and Nichole Belford.
- RAC’s Founder, Jill McGuire, for her continued support of the organization’s work.
Photo: left to right: Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard, Mayor Tishaura Jones, RAC President and CEO Vanessa Cooksey, and Alderman Dan Guenther.