More than 30 years ago, a group of inspired community leaders embarked on a bold plan to advance the arts in St Louis. The strategy behind the plan was smart and simple: invest hotel/motel taxes collected from out-of-town visitors in the development of the local nonprofit arts sector and establish an agency to allocate the funds. The grantees would produce and present high quality programs and services that contribute to our economy and make our community a more creative, thriving and vibrant place to live.

Regional Arts Commission St. Louis

The plan worked.

Since its founding in 1985, the Regional Arts Commission (RAC) has made a profound impact on St Louis by providing more than $100 million in funding to individual artists and nonprofit arts groups of all budgets and disciplines — funding that is consistent, stable and growing. Over the years, RAC has evolved as more than a grant-maker by providing training for arts administrators and artists; delivering marketing research and programs that promote St Louis to local and national audiences; and, managing a community center with places for local artists to gather and exhibit their work — all driven by a commitment to ensure diversity, inclusion and equity in everything we do.

But, even with all these advancements, RAC recognizes that the rapid pace at which the world is changing calls for a more aggressive and timely response to everyone’s needs — our grantees and the thousands of people they serve.

Today, St Louis nonprofit arts organizations compete in a world unimagined 30 years ago. They are expected to operate like small businesses, in a region with more arts organizations per capita than most communities our size. Their share of private support for the arts is decreasing as public support — at least at the federal level — is at risk. As the demographics of our population becomes more diverse, issues of equity and inclusion dominate the dialogue, but transitioning from dialogue to action remains a challenge. Arts participation overall is evolving with a declining share of audiences attending art museums and live performing arts events, while technology enables consumers to curate their own creative experiences. Arts education is making a come-back in our schools increasing the possibility of access to the arts for every child, but the entire notion of public education is being questioned. And, as social issues such as poverty, mental health, immigration, and civil rights are on the rise, the arts are being asked to provide solutions, even when cultural leaders are unsure of whether their programs and services offer the answers.

RAC’s journey began with a commitment to grow the arts community which would in turn make a difference in the lives of St Louisans. Now, we seek a new road map to guide our work even when the path forward is uncertain and as so much of the territory has changed.

On June 22, 2017, the Regional Arts Commission launched EVOKE St Louis, the first-ever comprehensive cultural planning process for the region. RAC will invite thousands of St Louisans to come together and engage in dialogue about the value of creativity in their lives and its relevancy to issues that make St Louis a better place to live.

The planning process is guided by a five-member Planning Committee of Commissioners appointed by the Mayor of St Louis and County Executive, and an advisory group of 20+ civic, cultural and community leaders who represent multiple sectors — business, education, arts and culture, philanthropy and other areas of our community.

Our goal is to reflect the deep diversity of the St Louis region in a process that will range from large town hall meetings, surveys, roundtable discussions and individual interviews, to quiet chats over coffee, and will invite people to share what keeps St Louis stuck, what makes it dynamic, and how the arts can make our region more creative, cohesive and civically engaged.

In late fall of 2017, we will release a draft plan for public comment and the final plan in the first quarter of 2018. We hope that the plan will reflect the ideas and aspirations of people who believe that creativity — that impulse and ability to think, feel, express and generate something new, original and meaningful — are essential for any progressive city, like St Louis, to thrive.

Visit this website often to discover how our journey unfolds. There will be invitations to events — large gatherings and intimate circles where people will share stories about the ways that the arts are already changing the face of St Louis. We’ll gather data for those who think by the numbers and recommend books to read, dance performances and plays to see, music to hear, and poetry and spoken word to inspire and invite us to consider all possibilities for change.

This initiative to plan for the cultural future of St Louis is finally here, it’s happening, and needs everyone’s participation. Be a part of EVOKE St Louis, and let your voice be heard.