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The arts and culture sector is big business in St. Louis, and the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis (RAC) has the data to back it up. The latest Americans for the Arts Economic & Prosperity 6 (AEP) study was released on Oct. 23 at Cultura, a new research, arts and culture conference created by RAC.  

“The economic and social impact the arts and culture sector has on St. Louis is undeniable,” said Vanessa Cooksey, RAC president and CEO. “Our nonprofit organizations contribute the local economy every day – employing thousands of people, creating unique and high-quality experiences for millions of attendees, and through daily operational expenditures.”

The St. Louis arts and culture sector provides nearly 12,000 jobs to residents in the region – contributing more than $611 million in wages.  More than 8.1 million local and out-of-town tourists attend theatre performances, concerts, art fairs, festivals, and more.  

“People who live outside St. Louis were asked about the main reason they took a trip to our region,” said Cooksey. “Four out of every five people said it was because of the arts. When these people come to town, they stay in hotels. When they stay in hotels, it generates tax revenue for RAC. In turn, we provide grants to hundreds of local organizations and artists. It’s a win-win-win”

View the Report.

Attendance at arts events generates income for local businesses—restaurants, parking garages, hotels, retail stores. On average, a local tourist spends about $31 every time they attend an arts and culture event in St. Louis. Out-of-town tourists spend more than $53.

The report added, “if a community fails to provide a variety of opportunities to experience the arts and culture, it risks not attracting cultural tourists and their valuable dollars as well as losing the discretionary spending of its own residents who will travel elsewhere in search of the diverse artistic expressions and authentic cultural experiences they seek.”  

According to the report, a large majority of attendees, 89%, said that the activity or venue they were attending was a source of civic pride in the community. Almost 85% said they would feel a sense of loss if that activity or venue was no longer available.  

“RAC has produced AEP data for the last 30 years. Every study has confirmed the positive economic and social impact the arts have in St. Louis,” said Cooksey. “We want artists, arts administrators as well as business and civic leaders to use the findings in this report to strengthen St. Louis’ position as a leader in inclusive economic growth.” 

“The data from the AEP 6 study is a powerful validation that arts and culture are an economic driver at the community level,” said Nolen Bivens, president of Americans for the Arts. “St. Louis, a founding and 30-year partner in this work is a prime example of a city with vibrant arts and culture offerings that attracts attendees both locally and from out of town. And these offerings have contributed greatly to that community’s civic pride and wellbeing.”

About AEP6 Data Collection:  

To measure the impact of spending by nonprofit arts and culture organizations in the Greater St. Louis Area, RAC first identified the universe of eligible organizations in the community. Those organizations were then asked to complete a survey about their fiscal year 2022 expenses and attendance. A total of 233 organizations participated in the survey. The findings in this report are based on the data provided only by those 233 organizations; no estimates or extrapolations have been made to account for non-participating organizations.  

To measure the impact of spending by arts and culture audiences in Greater St. Louis, data were collected from 1,973 attendees between May 2022 and June 2023. Researchers used an audience-intercept methodology, a standard technique in which attendees to in-person performances, events, and activities are asked to complete a brief survey about their spending related to that event, opinions about the social impact of the arts, ZIP code of their primary address, and basic socioeconomic information. Surveys took place only while attendees were attending the event.

About AEP6: 

The Arts & Economic Prosperity 6 study (AEP6) is an economic and social impact study of the nation’s nonprofit arts and culture industry. Building on its 30-year legacy as the largest and most inclusive study of its kind, AEP6 provides detailed findings on 373 regions from across all 50 states and Puerto Rico—ranging in population from 4,000 to 4 million—and representing rural, suburban, and large urban communities. The study is based on the 2022 fiscal year. This study excludes individual artists and the for-profit arts and entertainment sector (e.g., Broadway, popular music concert tours, or the motion picture industry)—all vital and valued components of the nation’s arts landscape but beyond the scope of this study. 


A new study out from the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis (RACSTL) is shining a light on the creative community. The data from Creatives Count, the only study of creatives in the region, will be used as a critical source of information for governments, businesses, nonprofits, and individuals who want to better understand the creative heart of St. Louis.  

“We use the term ‘creatives’ to gain a wider understanding of all artists in the sector,” said Liz Deichmann, RACSTL evaluation and research lead. She spearheaded the project. “It includes craftspeople, culture bearers, designers, makers, musicians, performers, and other people who are creatively active.” 

Several key takeaways help tell the story of the creative community in St. Louis.

“One of the biggest takeaways – artist are entrepreneurs,” said Vanessa Cooksey, RACSTL president and CEO. “Yes, we can love art for art’s sake! We can also elevate how we think and talk about artists in a way that truly honors and reflects the financial and civic value of their creativity.”  

Of the more than 1,500 creatives surveyed in St. Louis City and St. Louis County, 41% view their creative practice as their main career.   

Another key finding was related to income. Some 36% of survey respondents said they were “just getting by” or even “finding it difficult to get by” financially. Conversely, 65% of creatives said they were either “doing okay” or “living comfortably.” More than 31% of survey takers relied on work outside the arts and culture sector for income.   

In 2022, RACSTL granted more than $4.5 million to working artists, arts programs and arts organizations through its normal grant cycle. Outside its normal grant funding, RACSTL was awarded $10.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) from St. Louis City.  

“Despite this historic investment, our resources alone aren’t enough,” said Cooksey. We are inviting business and civic leaders to partner with us and invest in the artists that help make St. Louis a great place to live, work and visit.”   

The study also shows St. Louis creatives have a lot of optimism about the creative community in St. Louis –citing cost of living and support from other artists as key benefits of living in the region.  

In addition to the survey, Creatives Count engaged with 34 local creatives through a series of online and in-person focus groups.

Qualitative research was a critical part of the study. It allowed us to hear directly from creatives about their experiences in a richness that is invariably lost with quantitative data alone,” said Deichmann.  

RACSTL plans to use data from Creatives Count to plan its artist grants, programs and services until the next study is produced in 2028. Insights gained from the first iteration of the study, Artists Count (2013), were instrumental in informing RACSTL’s introduction of grants for individual artists.  

About Creatives Count

Creatives Count is a research study of RACSTL. It is informed by the first iteration of the study, Artists Count (2013), as well as RACSTL’s strategic vision for St. Louis as a place where every resident has the freedom, resources, and opportunities to enjoy a full creative life. RACSTL engaged the arts research and consulting firm WolfBrown to conduct the research for the study. 

The survey was open to anyone who was creatively involved in the production or presentation of creative cultural products, including music, fine or folk arts, creative writing, fashion, film/media, social practice, makers, and other creative works, whether for financial gain or personal satisfaction. Additionally, survey takers had to be 18 years or older and live in St. Louis City or County or does creative work or present creative work to the public in St. Louis City or in St. Louis County. 

It was a sold-out crowd at the Center of Creative Arts (COCA) on Oct. 23, as hundreds attended Cultura, a new conference focused on the intersections of research, art and culture.  

More than 450 people attended the inaugural event which featured national and local arts leaders, creatives, academics , and research professionals. A true blend of research, arts and culture, Cultura showcased exclusive performances from local musicians for VIP ticket holders. 

RAC welcomed  Americans for the Arts President and CEO Nolen Bivens to this year’s conference. Americans for the Arts (AFTA) conducted its sixth study on the national economic impact of nonprofit arts activity over the past year, Arts and Economic Prosperity 6 (AEP6).  

Following the national presentation, RACSTL shared the local findings from the AEP6 St. Louis study. 

“We know the arts are big business in St. Louis,” said Vanessa Cooksey, RACSTL president and CEO. “According to the latest AEP6 study, the arts and culture sector contributed nearly $868 million in economic activity in St. Louis in 2022.”

The study added that the arts and culture sector provides some 12,000 jobs and brings more than 8 million local and national tourists to St. Louis annually.   

Also at Cultura, attendees heard the results of the Creatives Count study, produced by Wolf Brown, a national arts research organization. Creatives Count is the only study of individual creatives in the region.  

The data from both studies  will be used as a critical source of information for governments, businesses, nonprofits, and individuals who want to better understand the creative heart of St. Louis.   

“Cultura is more than just data. It’s an experience. It’s immersive and engaging. It’s a place filled with innovative artists, impactful organizations, and thoughtful changemakers,” said Andrea Purnell, RACSTL’s Board Chair. “We are laying a foundation for something truly unique locally and nationally.”  

Cooksey ended the conference with a “State of the Arts” presentation, providing details about RACSTL’s 2024 grants and programs. The organization has focused on ensuring a more efficient process for local artists, arts programs and organizations to get support from RAC.  

“The grant cycle is going to be more competitive, but it’s also going to be more equitable. For the first time, all of our artists and arts organizations will have access to unrestricted funding. It’s really important that our grantees decide how to use the dollars to advance their work.” said Cooksey.  

RACSTL will also return to offering two Artist Support Grant cycles in 2024, with applications available in winter and summer. Though the maximum annual grant award remains unchanged, two grant cycles allow more opportunities for RACSTL to support real-time innovation and creativity happening in the region.

“Non-arts organizations, including colleges and university, churches and community development organizations, will be eligible to apply for restricted program grants next year,” said Cooksey. “In order to realize our vision of a full creative life for every St. Louis, we need to fund arts experiences that happen in all types of spaces and places.” 

Moving forward, Cultura will be the platform for all RACSTL’s research and evaluation work. 

 “This conference is just the start. RACSTL will have additional resources to amplify paradigm-shifting that may not find an audience. We want to bring together the greatest thinkers and doers across the national arts and culture sector and advance the ideas and methods that reveal the measurable impact of the arts,” said MK Stallings, RACSTL research and evaluation manager.

St. Louis is an arts town, and it’s being recognized nationally for it.

SMU DataArts, the National Center for Arts Research, released its 8th Arts Vibrancy Index in October. St. Louis is listed as a top 20 arts-vibrant community across the country. The ranking was based on the level of supply, demand, and government support for the arts in more than 900 communities across the country. St. Louis is returning to the Arts Vibrancy Index for the first time since 2016.

“When you support the arts, you support St. Louis,” said Vanessa Cooksey, Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis (RACSTL) president and CEO. “Our artists, arts programs and arts organization are the soul of this great region.”

Related research by SMU DataArts shows that Local Arts Agencies (LAAs) like the RACSTL are powerful catalysts of arts vibrancy which ensure that the arts remain an integral part of community life.

“The arts and culture sector was hit hard by the pandemic, and some organizations and communities are still recovering. The Index is an opportunity for communities to affirm and celebrate the individuals and organizations that are the sources of arts vibrancy in their region, whether that’s artists who have mastered a local craft tradition over generations, a cultural festival that families enjoy year after year, or a cherished historic theater, museum, or arts-education center. For organizations, funders, local citizens, and public officials, the Arts Vibrancy Index is a powerful resource that leverages data-driven evidence to illuminate how the arts contribute to an area’s economy and public life,” stated Dr. Zannie Voss, director of SMU DataArts.

The overall Arts Vibrancy Index is composed of 13 unique measures which cover aspects of supply, demand, and public support for arts and culture, and are adjusted for cost of living and population differences among communities. In this year’s index, the analysis approach was updated to weight the 13 inputs based on their relative explanatory power for the underlying concept of arts vibrancy. This approach improves measurement consistency in the face of data availability delays or other changes in individual datasets from year to year. All financial metrics have been adjusted for cost of living in order to level the playing field. The cost of doing business varies based on local conditions, so the same dollar goes further in some communities than others.

As the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis (RAC) prepares to celebrate its 40th year in 2025, the organization is advancing a community-based engagement approach to serving its grant recipients, community members, and stakeholders.

When the pandemic began in March of 2020, RAC’s building closed to the public. During that time, RAC shifted to a hybrid workplace model – increasing efficiency and productivity while also creating a more positive work-life balance for staff. Presently, the building remains closed to the public.

“The impact of COVID-19 fundamentally changed our organization’s operations,” said Vanessa Cooksey, RAC President and CEO. “We made an intentional shift to be more connected to artists and arts organizations by meeting and engaging with them more often, both at their locations and online. This allowed us to know what was going on in the sector, in real time, and respond to their needs.”

Communication and engagement with artists, arts organizations and stakeholders has evolved over the last few years as well. The reach and impact of RAC’s grants and programs have extended beyond its physical location. The organization has woven itself into the fabric of the arts and culture sector in St. Louis.

“RAC’s community-based engagement approach has led to stronger relationships, increased trust, and improved collaboration with the arts and culture sector,” said Andréa Purnell, the 2023 RAC Commission Chair. “We expect honesty and transparency from those we serve, and they expect it back. After extensive financial, administrative and environmental analysis, the RAC Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to put 6128 Delmar Boulevard on the open real estate market.”

In 2002, former RAC Executive Director Jill McGuire led the effort to build a permanent location for the organization, which included an art gallery and event space on the ground floor. “Over the last 20 years, the building has made such a meaningful impact on the community,” said Purnell. “It has created lasting memories, including some of my own. We truly thank Jill and the former Commissioners that were involved in making this vision a reality.”

To maintain a community connection, RAC is opening a pop-up location at City Foundry STL this summer, ensuring that it can continue to directly engage with artists and arts organizations. In addition, RAC staff will move into a co-working space as the Commission evaluates its long-term facilities strategy.

“This year is off to a strong start,” said Cooksey. “We received $10.6 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds from St. Louis City, granted more than $4.48 million in grants to 181 artists and 129 arts organizations, and launched a multi-city arts tourism marketing campaign to bring more people to St. Louis. We continue to make strides in our financial recovery, and the sale of the building will further strengthen our balance sheet and position our organization for long-term sustainability.”