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Regional Arts Commission awards $1.15 million to artists and organizations

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Jeremy D. Goodwin
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis President and CEO Vanessa Cooksey announces $1.15 million in new funding Wednesday at the Artists First gallery in Maplewood.

The Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis will soon distribute $1.15 million in grants to artists and arts groups, the organization announced Wednesday.

Grants will go to 94 organizations and 85 individual artists.

While RAC released grant funding in quarterly installments in the past, it will fully fund its latest awards this month.

“We know how important it is for these arts organizations to get their resources to be able to produce these programs. So we don't want to have to wait,” said Vanessa Cooksey, president and CEO of the commission. ”We'll still hold organizations accountable through the reporting process, but we want to get the cash in hand to artists and organizations as soon as possible.”

Grants include $13,500 to the Deaf Empowerment Awareness Foundation for the Deaf Visual Arts Festival, $12,000 to the African Heritage Association of St. Louis for the St. Louis African Arts Festival and $10,500 to the Gateway Men’s Chorus for its next season. Novelist Denise M. Jones, photographer Jess T. Dugan and dancer Prince J. Lyons are among those who received individual grants of $5,000.

The news is a welcome boost for artists and other workers in the arts sector, which has been hit hard by limits on public gatherings prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. But it’s a fraction of what RAC granted annually before the pandemic began. In 2019, the commission awarded $4.2 million in grants.

“This year was certainly better than last year. But we are nowhere near pre-pandemic levels of funding,” Cooksey said.

The reduction in tourism to St. Louis caused by the pandemic led to a 60% drop in RAC’s annual funding, which mostly comes from taxes on visitors to hotels and motels.

The primary grants fall into three categories: general organizational support, funding tied to specific programs and support for individual artists. The arts funder simplified its application for program support this year, removing extraneous questions and striking a requirement that organizations obtain matching funding.

For the 40 organizations that received general organizational support in 2020, RAC maintained its funding levels in 2021 and 2022 without reopening the application process. This group includes many of the region’s largest arts organizations.

Responding to the abrupt drop in available funds, in May 2020 RAC revised the amounts of grants it had already announced, funding 40% of the original award for project-specific grants and 25% of grants for general operating support.

That year, RAC launched an emergency relief fund for artists who lost much of their income because of coronavirus-related closures. RAC seeded that fund with $100,000 in cash reserves, added about $40,000 in private donations and held an online benefit concert.

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Jeremy D. Goodwin
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Myah Singh, a fabric artist and co-founder of Theatre De La Rue, will use a $5,000 individual grant to stage a performance and exhibition at the Grandel in September.

Myah Singh, a first-time recipient of an artist support grant, will use the $5,000 award to rent the Grandel for a September performance and art exhibition. The evening will include related monologues, dance and African drumming.

“I'll be able to buy fabrics and cotton. I'll be able to create beautiful artwork to be able to put on stage or on display so people can see it,” said Singh, a fabric artist and co-founder of Theatre de la Rue. “This is just an introduction to everything that Myah and our theater company can do.”

As RAC’s available funds have shrunk during the pandemic, so too has the organization itself: It had more than a dozen employees in the past, eight when Cooksey started in 2020 and dropped to three in early 2021, she said. The organization is back up to a handful of full-time staffers. RAC is limited by statute to spend up to 15% of its budget on administrative overhead, including staff salaries.

“We know, from our own experience and loss of revenue, how challenged our arts organizations and artists are,” Cooksey said.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

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