New Arts Research Conference Sets Foundation for Bright Future in St. Louis and Beyond

October 23, 2023

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.