St. Louis groups call on city to make more use of federal arts aid

A bill that would bring $10.6 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to arts organizations will soon be heard by the full board of aldermen.

The bill would allow the Regional Arts Commission to use federal funds for arts organizations and programs that have closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

“That $10.6 million is actually spread over several years, said Alderman Dan Guenther, sponsor of the bill. “This is what we believe will be helpful and help not only replace lost revenue, but also grow our arts programming and arts culture in the city of St. Louis.”

If approved, the executive director of the city’s Community Development Administration would sign a sub-agreement with the Regional Arts Commission, which would distribute the funds to arts organizations.

Arts leaders said Thursday the pandemic has forced theaters and other arts organizations to close to prevent the virus from spreading. The Regional Arts Commission receives substantial funding from the Hotel/Motel Sales Tax, which has been exhausted during the pandemic. The commission’s tax revenue increased from $9.5 million in fiscal year 2019 to $3.186 million in fiscal year 2021, said Nahuel Fefer, executive director of the Community Development Administration of the city.

Revenue generated by hotel and motel sales tax is still years away from a full recovery, said Vanessa Cooksey, executive director of the Regional Arts Commission.

Cooksey said RAC would have received $7.2 million in revenue this year, but has so far received $4.2 million with four months remaining.

“Unanimous approval of this bill will benefit creative residents and arts and cultural organizations in your neighborhood,” Cooksey said. “RAC has the plan, the existing infrastructure, and strong relationships to effectively, fairly, and efficiently distribute ARPA funds to artists and arts and cultural organizations in St. Louis.”

Last fall, more than 100 arts leaders sent St. Louis city and county leaders a letter asking the region to allocate 5% of federal relief funds to support the arts. A county bill, if approved, would distribute $1.6 million to the commission. Arts leaders said the funds were critical because the arts sector supports more than 19,000 jobs and generates nearly $600 million a year, more than all local sports combined.

Many of the region’s arts organizations are vital to the community, as many use their funds to support employment and educational opportunities, said Kwofe Coleman, president and CEO of Muny. But he said the Muny faced a multimillion-dollar loss for another year.

“We benefit from the size in ways that I know some of my colleagues don’t benefit from, so if we’re going through that, I know for some of our colleagues and for people not represented on this panel, that’s fine. more serious than I can even say here,” Coleman said. “I can’t stress enough that there are individuals and organizations at different scales who are hurting in ways that we can’t even articulate. correctly. There are a number of artists who will never get their first opportunity or their fresh start.

Small and medium-sized groups are a big part of the region’s arts scene, said Joan Lipkin, artistic director of That Uppity Theater Company and Dance the Vote.

“Big arts organizations need funding, everyone needs funding,” Lipkin said. “But the small and medium groups that are an essential part of our artistic ecology are struggling even more. If We don’t give artists and small organizations more means to survive, they will leave.

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