As the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis (RAC) prepares to celebrate its 40th year in 2025, the organization is advancing a community-based engagement approach to serving its grant recipients, community members, and stakeholders.
When the pandemic began in March of 2020, RAC’s building closed to the public. During that time, RAC shifted to a hybrid workplace model – increasing efficiency and productivity while also creating a more positive work-life balance for staff. Presently, the building remains closed to the public.
“The impact of COVID-19 fundamentally changed our organization’s operations,” said Vanessa Cooksey, RAC President and CEO. “We made an intentional shift to be more connected to artists and arts organizations by meeting and engaging with them more often, both at their locations and online. This allowed us to know what was going on in the sector, in real time, and respond to their needs.”
Communication and engagement with artists, arts organizations and stakeholders has evolved over the last few years as well. The reach and impact of RAC’s grants and programs have extended beyond its physical location. The organization has woven itself into the fabric of the arts and culture sector in St. Louis.
“RAC’s community-based engagement approach has led to stronger relationships, increased trust, and improved collaboration with the arts and culture sector,” said Andréa Purnell, the 2023 RAC Commission Chair. “We expect honesty and transparency from those we serve, and they expect it back. After extensive financial, administrative and environmental analysis, the RAC Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to put 6128 Delmar Boulevard on the open real estate market.”
In 2002, former RAC Executive Director Jill McGuire led the effort to build a permanent location for the organization, which included an art gallery and event space on the ground floor. “Over the last 20 years, the building has made such a meaningful impact on the community,” said Purnell. “It has created lasting memories, including some of my own. We truly thank Jill and the former Commissioners that were involved in making this vision a reality.”
To maintain a community connection, RAC is opening a pop-up location at City Foundry STL this summer, ensuring that it can continue to directly engage with artists and arts organizations. In addition, RAC staff will move into a co-working space as the Commission evaluates its long-term facilities strategy.
“This year is off to a strong start,” said Cooksey. “We received $10.6 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds from St. Louis City, granted more than $4.48 million in grants to 181 artists and 129 arts organizations, and launched a multi-city arts tourism marketing campaign to bring more people to St. Louis. We continue to make strides in our financial recovery, and the sale of the building will further strengthen our balance sheet and position our organization for long-term sustainability.”