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Arts

Over 100 St. Louis arts organizations ask for federal coronavirus relief funds

COCA's summer musical, "Memphis," is set in a 1950s Memphis underground rock n' roll bar.
Center of Creative Arts
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Actors perform onstage for COCA's musical, "Memphis." COCA Executive Director Kelly Pollock is one of 111 arts leaders asking that St. Louis and St. Louis County leaders allocate funds to support art institutions.

More than 100 St. Louis-area arts institutions are calling on St. Louis and St. Louis County officials to use federal coronavirus relief funding to help support the arts.

In a letter, arts leaders asked city and county officials to allocate 5% of their federal relief funds to arts institutions. That would help cover the revenue arts organizations lost after they had to shut their doors to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, arts leaders said.

Boosting arts organizations with federal funds would strengthen a significant economic engine within the region, said Hana Sharif, artistic director at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

“We actually help the entire economic ecology thrive,” Sharif said. “I think that the hope is that this 5% line item request will help bring us back to pre-pandemic levels of giving.”

Arts leaders say their institutions generate millions of dollars in economic activity accounting for thousands of jobs in the St. Louis region. Signees include leaders of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, the Black Rep and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Organizations say the Regional Arts Commission would determine the amount needed for each institution.

“The arts in general were among the first industries to go down and among the last to come back up,” said Kelly Pollock, executive director of COCA. “There's a ripple effect to restaurants and retail and tourism and just kind of social connectedness and well being and a large workforce. So it's really imperative that this support comes flowing into the arts organization so that we can really help support the economic vitality of the region.”

A spokesperson for St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said the Board of Aldermen would have to approve distributing federal pandemic relief monies to arts organizations. A spokesperson for St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said the county would have a better idea over how much remaining money it has from the American Rescue Plan Act after next year’s budget is approved.

Federal relief funding to the arts from St. Louis and St. Louis County would follow federal support from the Save Our Stages Act and Payroll Protection Program loans over the past year. Those funds provided financial support to arts institutions and venues.

But arts leaders say while the earlier rounds of federal assistance helped keep their organizations afloat, they need additional federal aid to ensure the long term stability of arts organizations in coming years

“There are other organizations that are smaller and others that are bigger and we all work together in a way to kind of create a pipeline for both artists and audiences,” said Peter Palermo, executive director of the Sheldon Concert Hall and Art Galleries. He said the Sheldon has received about $1 million in federal aid over the last year and a half.

“That has absolutely allowed us to keep our doors open and keep everybody on staff while we're here,” Palermo said. “But that's going to run out, and like I said, we've still got a ways to run this race.”

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

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