The keynote speaker was Robert Lynch, who detailed the results of AEP5, the Arts and Economic Impact Study conducted every five years by Americans for the Arts, a national organization advancing the arts since 1947.
Certainly everyone at this meeting, and most citizens of St. Louis, would agree the arts are a crucial element of life, but celebrating art and artists was not the purpose of this meeting. The arts create a profound economic impact, and many St. Louisans make a living directly or indirectly from the arts.
In the St. Louis Metro Region, Arts organizations annually spend $363 million, and audiences spend $227 million attending arts events. The Missouri tax revenue generated from the arts totals $57.7 million. This spending results in over 19,000 full-time jobs in the St. Louis Metro Region. 86% of tourists visit St. Louis to attend an arts event, and there are at least 814 arts businesses in St. Louis.
“It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.”
– William Carlos Williams
After the keynote, a panel of local arts and cultural leaders convened to discuss economic growth and community engagement.
Felicia Shaw – Executive Director, Regional Arts Commission
Kitty Ratcliffe – President, Explore St. Louis
Karin Hagaman – President and CEO, Grand Center
Eliot Frick – Founder and CEO, Bigwidesky
Felicia Shaw, the Executive Director of the Regional Arts Commission (RAC), cited a Harvard Business Review report that companies have discovered great value in graduates with Master of Fine Arts degrees, not merely Master of Business Administration. Creativity sparks innovation — the arts create business. The EVOKE process from RAC aims to determine the highest and best use for arts funding, and will produce the report in Spring 2018. “The arts give us the medium to imagine many possible futures.”
The arts as a vehicle for social change.
Many national grants organizations, including the Ford Foundation, have recently transformed their arts funding from “arts” to “equity.” In other words, they are not funding art for art’s sake, but rather arts as a vehicle for social change. In a city like St. Louis, with the issues we currently face, arts that produce equity (opportunity, understanding, harmony) may be just the direction we need.