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February Working Group Meeting Recap

Posted by RAC on March 14, 2019

With the February 8 Information Session at .Zack behind us, the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis (RAC) continued the second phase of its cultural planning process with the engagement of its stakeholder Working Groups later that month. The three Working Groups are tasked with delving deeper into the six priorities and devising a set of strategies that would move the concepts from idea to action. (Read more about the six priorities in ARTS &: A Cultural Vision for St. Louis.)

Facilitated by Amy Rome and Jennifer Drake Fantroy of The Rome Group, the Working Groups focused on Arts and Education, Individual Artists, and Arts and Economy convened. The overarching question they discussed was, “What’s working well for arts education, individual artists and arts and the economy in the St Louis region?”

What We Learned from the February Meetings

General Themes

  • The landscape is one with many arts and cultural organizations, artists, and opportunities to engage in artistic endeavors.
  • Artists and arts organizations are connected to the community, often as a result of encountering the right person with the right information — for example, a listserv, an organization with a list of referrals, or a well-connected individual.
  • At the same time, there is no systematic way for arts administrators, individual artists, or the community to learn about opportunities, events, or resources that might interest or benefit them.
  • There are “pockets” of excellence — individual artists, organizations, and programs that are succeeding — and we have successfully made the case for the arts as necessary for quality of life, entertainment, or as an “extracurricular” activity.
  • A shift in social norms is necessary to change the perception of the arts from being about the quality of life (“window dressing”) to an essential part of life and the economy (“foundational”). A plan should prioritize systemic approaches to promote their importance, such as an “Arts Czar” in government, the inclusion of arts in the region’s economic development plan, and affordable housing and living wage campaigns.
  • Those who are well connected to the arts and culture sector understand its intrinsic value and its contributions to the economy, individual lives, and society overall, but the sector would benefit from a unified voice that raises awareness about this value to the region and all of its citizens.

Arts & the Economy

  • Earned income is being generated that supports artists and operations for many organizations as well as through other types of for-profit and non-profit events; this includes our thriving arts districts.
  • Start-ups and a dynamic landscape with various groups are positive influences.
  • There are missed opportunities by only talking about art’s impact on quality of life. The arts are a critical ingredient in the community, regarding creativity and generation of ideas in all arenas. The arts should be at every table.

Arts & Education

  • Arts education is mandated by the state, and there are local public and private funding for programs, often as a priority for those who support arts and culture.
  • There is a significant number of free programs, but in schools, resources often affect those offerings.
  • There are quality instructors, often artists, but there is a need for more understanding of pedagogy.
  • There is a need for more access with a focus on equity, both related to who is served and who is teaching. Barriers can include transportation and the “tools” (instruments, outfits, fees etc.);
  • Partnerships exist but could be expanded to include community-based organizations, such as churches, social service agencies, etc.

Arts & the Working Artist

  • Opportunities for working artists have increased. Organizations are accessible, and there is support for them through groups such as RAC, VLAA, MAPS, etc.
  • St. Louis is affordable compared to other places, including housing and studio space, but the price points may still be high for artists.
  • Connecting to opportunities is possible through listservs, social media, and artist events, but additional more informal, cross-disciplinary options are needed.
  • Partnerships can be formed with many entities if art is seen as a part of the fabric of the region. St. Louis needs to cultivate a national reputation as a culturally dynamic place.
  • It is important for artists to understand that their career is not only in St. Louis. Artists have to work all over but can live in St. Louis if there is a strong infrastructure.

The next Working Group meetings to be held in March will focus on the weaknesses of St Louis’ arts education and individual artist community as well as within the arts economy. Stay tuned for updates in the next blog.