Regional Arts Commission awards $1 million to local artists and arts programs | The living

For the first time in nearly two years, the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission (RAC) has awarded more than $1.15 million in new grants to local artists and arts programming in the region.

More than 90 artistic programs and 85 individual artists will receive direct financial support in 2022.

The announcement was made June 15 at Artists First in Maplewood, an inclusive nonprofit art studio that empowers artists of all skill levels. The organization received a program support grant of $13,500 from RAC this year.

“The St. Louis Regional Arts Commission has paved the way for the survival and promotion of the arts in St. Louis,” said Sheila Suderwalla, executive director of Artists First.

“Artists First is grateful not only to be a partner of RAC, but also for their support in advocating for artists of all levels.”

“This is a great achievement for RAC,” said Vanessa Cooksey, President and CEO of RAC.

“This demonstrates the high level of teamwork between our Board of Commissioners and staff as we worked together to ensure excellent stewardship of public funds and public trust. We have made significant administrative and operational sacrifices over the past two years to ensure that grants and programs benefiting St. Louis arts organizations and artists are funded to the highest level possible within our means.

Almost all of RAC’s funding comes from the Hotel/Motel Tax collected in the City and County of St. Louis. Since April 2020, RAC has lost over 60% of its revenue. Due to the drastic loss, all but one of its programs were canceled and its general operating support grant payments were cut by 75%.

According to the American for the Arts’ Arts and Economic Prosperity Report, St. Louis’ arts and culture sector generates nearly $600 million in economic activity each year and provides more than 19,000 full-time jobs.

“Sometimes we forget that St. Louis is an artistic city,” Cooksey added.

“We have over 400 arts and cultural nonprofits, dozens of for-profit entertainment venues, and 15,000 active artists driving our region’s creative economy. The sector brings more than 12 million people to St. Louis each year, more than all professional and collegiate sports combined.

One such active artist is Jess Dugan. Through photography, videography and writing, Dugan explores questions of identity. Their work has been exhibited widely and is in the permanent collections of over 40 museums across the United States.

“Regional Arts Commission support has been a big and central part of my career,” Dugan said. “In 2016, an RAC grant enabled me to take the leap to work full-time as an artist, which I continue to do. Over the past few years, I have received numerous artist support grants, which have allowed me to purchase essential studio equipment, produce traveling exhibits, and much more. I am extremely grateful to RAC for all the support they provide to artists working in St. Louis.

“Grantmaking is the cornerstone of RAC’s work,” said Cheryl DS Walker, RAC Board Chair.

“As per our current strategic plan, we have taken several steps to ensure this year’s process was more efficient and effective for our grantees. RAC shortened the applications to make the process easier and did not require matching funds, which made our grant opportunities more accessible. We also interviewed applicants to gather their feedback on how to improve the application process for next year and beyond.

“These changes are the first of many,” Cooksey said.

“We are strengthening our organizational infrastructure and prioritizing equity, diversity and inclusion in response to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on the arts and culture sector.

The full list of grant recipients is available at For more information, visit

Aurora J. William