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St. Louis Arts Leaders Hope Biden Administration Boosts Federal Support For Arts

RhonniRose Mantilla, wearing a red dress, rehearses Thursday night for an upcoming community production of West Side Story in July.
Stewart Goldstein
Arts leaders say they hope the Biden administration will provide financial support to artists and arts institutions impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. COCA receives about $40,000 of its funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Arts leaders are hopeful that the Biden administration will increase support to artists and arts organizations that have lost revenue as the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions imposed to keep the public safe financially hurt arts institutions.

They also say Biden's expected support for the arts will be in stark contrast to the stance of his predecessor. President Donald Trump repeatedly tried to cut funding to the National Endowment for the Arts.

While Congress blocked those efforts, Trump's opposition to the arts troubled arts leaders whose organizations rely on federal support, said Kelly Pollock, executive director of COCA.

“It was very clear that the expressed value of the arts wasn't there, and despite that, arts funding has prevailed,” Pollock said. “I think [the] arts always demonstrates that it is a strong bipartisan issue. Historically, that has been true.”

COCA received $40,000 in NEA grants in 2019. That is a relatively small part of the organization's budget, but a significant one as COCA leverages federal money to acquire funds from other sources.

President Joe Biden has yet to announce how his administration will approach arts funding and who will serve as the new chair for the NEA, but St. Louis-area arts leaders will follow how federal policies will affect their organizations, said Michael Donovan, executive director of the Missouri Arts Council.

The council, which provides grants to organizations throughout Missouri, receives most of its funding from the state but about 14% from the NEA, Donovan said.

Arts leaders say federal funding is important because it helps arts organizations and supports the regional economy. Additional federal support for the arts could be a crucial lifeline for communities hit hard by the pandemic, said Robert Stumpf, administrator and conductor of the Black Tulip Chorale.

“I think the one thing that an administration can help do is diversify revenue streams and application processes for organizations of various sizes, especially smaller organizations," Stumpf said. “I think common sense would tell you that spreading support, and access to wider areas of communities, in an economic sense itself would help generate a recovery.”

Federal funding also is an important tool that helps Black arts groups, and those led by other people of color, to overcome inequitable funding, said Ron Himes, founder and producing director of the Rep.

“When we look at, you know, injustice and lack of equity, or diversity and inclusion in the arts, where that is most prevalent is in funding,” Himes said. “That is where we see the most racism, the most inequities.”

Himes said that he's confident the Biden administration will again emphasize the importance of the arts after four years in which the Trump administration did not make them a priority.

“The appreciation of, the uplifting of the arts from the administration, is just so very, very important and crucial to the nation in terms of validating and celebrating the important contribution that the arts make to our society,” Himes said. “ I think it's been important when the administration has taken those stances and that’s the impact that I think the Biden/Harris administration could have.”

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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