RAC CEO Advocates for the Arts at Missouri Governor’s Conference on Tourism

October 13, 2022

Vanessa Cooksey, President and CEO of the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis (RAC), spoke at the Missouri Governor’s Conference on Tourism in October 2022 at St. Louis’ Chase Park Plaza. Emphasizing that the arts mean business, Cooksey outlined how the nonprofit arts and culture sector is a significant industry in the State of Missouri—one that generates $1.04 billion in total economic activity. The sector supports nearly 32,000 full-time jobs and delivers $89.6 million in local and state government revenue.

The arts are a crucial engine for economic growth and at the heart of what RAC does, infusing capital into the vibrant arts and culture scene and making the St. Louis region one of the best places to live and do business. In the last 37 years, RAC has provided over 7,000 grants totaling $100 million, making the organization the largest public funder of the arts in St. Louis.

View the conference presentation below.

Read Cooksey’s remarks from the October 2022 conference.

The Regional Arts Commission was founded in 1985, when citizens of St. Louis voted to ensure that arts weren’t a luxury – but a necessity. Grantmaking is at the heart of what we do. In the last 37 years, we’ve given more than 7,000 grants worth $100 million – making RAC the largest public funder of the arts in the region. This summer, we granted $1.15 million to more than 170 local artists and arts organizations. It’s truly an honor and a privilege to lead this organization.

Some of our grant recipients you might know – the St. Louis Symphony, the Muny and Opera St. Louis. Some, you might not know, but you should get to know them. Theater companies like The Black Rep – which just celebrated its 46th season – produces, re-imagines and commissions work written by Black playwrights.

Artists like Cbabi Bayoc – After working as a caricature artist at Six Flags of St. Louis, he went on to become an internationally-renowned artist who still lives here today.

Cultural institutions like The National Blues Museum opened their doors in just a few years ago, and they are now the premiere blues museum in the world.

Another cornerstone of our work is advocacy, and that’s what brings me here today. I’m in a room full of changemakers, policy creators and fellow advocates, and I’m here with a message that many of you know: The Arts mean business in Missouri. Museums, galleries, festivals, concerts, plays, musicals – all bring millions of people to communities across Missouri every year.

At the beginning of the video you just saw, there was a quote from former Missouri Department of Economic Development Director Rob Dixon. “The arts in Missouri are crucial to growing our state’s economy. They foster creativity and innovation within our communities and add to the cultural fabric that makes Missouri one of the best places to live and to do business.”

When you embrace the arts, you are embracing economic growth in your communities. The arts mean jobs for our citizens, sales for local restaurants and shops, clients for small businesses, full hotels, and revenue for local and state government.

The numbers help tell a bigger story.

The nonprofit arts and culture sector is a significant industry in the State of Missouri—one that generates $1.04 billion in total economic activity. The sector supports nearly 32,000 full-time jobs and delivers $89.6 million in local and state government revenue.

Residents of Missouri who enjoy the arts spend an average of $20 extra when attending an event – not including the cost of admission. Non-residents spent an average of nearly $40 extra when they attend an event…Multiply those numbers by the 21 million arts and culture event attendees….and that’s $436 million in spending in our local communities.

If a community fails to provide a variety of artistic and cultural experiences, not only will it fail to attract new dollars from cultural tourists, but it will also lose the discretionary spending of its own residents who will travel elsewhere for a similar experience.

You might be asking yourself – where is this data coming from? Every five years, the Americans for the Arts launches a massive study across the country – the Arts and Economic Prosperity Study, or AEP. The last study conducted, AEP5, was released in 2015. Due to the pandemic, the study scheduled in 2020 was postponed. Today, I’m happy to report AEP6 is underway. It will once again document in unprecedented scope and detail the economic power that the arts and culture wield in 395 participating communities representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

AEP6 will once again show that communities that support the arts and culture sector aren’t doing it at the expense of local economic development. On the contrary – communities that support the arts and culture are investing in supporting jobs, generating government revenue and attracting tourism. This study will confirm that the arts mean business in Missouri.

So how can you help support the arts and culture sector in your community? Our local arts agencies, convention and visitors bureaus and tourism professionals have to become the catalyst for innovation in their communities. The arts are for everyone, and everyone benefits when the arts are a part of their lives. Hospitals who use art as a healer consistently report faster recoveries and fewer days in the hospital. Students who engage in the arts in school have better grades and less behavioral problems. Regions that have robust arts communities help attract high-quality talent to local companies like Bayer, Worldwide Technologies, Cerner, Hallmark, O’Reilly, State Farm and more.

You look around the country – around the world – and you see uncertainty. Volatility. The issues we face are complex and unprecedented. We are divided by our differences and often cannot find common ground.

But I want you to think about something for a second. Think about the last concert you went to…the last festival you attended…the show you watched in a theater…or museum you visited. Think about the people around you at one of these events. Did you feel divided in that moment? Or…did you share that moment with the people around you?

The arts bring us together. They inspire us. They create civic pride in our communities. It brings Missourians together.

Your community members want the arts, and they understand the power of the arts. More than 82% believe the arts are important to local businesses and the economy. Just as important, 87% believe the arts are important to quality of life.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want? A quality of life that makes us happy – that feeds our soul? That’s the power of the arts. Thank you.

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