Local arts may get a financial boost

Thursday, April 26, 2007

With a dramatic increase in funding virtually certain for the coming year, the Missouri Arts Council is now turning to the public for feedback on its plans for future.

The council's top three staff members will join a recently appointed council member from Cape Girardeau, Dr. Joel Ray, for a hearing at 5 p.m. Friday at the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri, 32 N. Main St.

The staff will present a draft of the council's strategic plan for the coming four years, said Beverly Strohmeyer, executive director. The audience will be asked to comment on whether the goals in the strategic plan will help their arts organization succeed, ways to make sure the goals are met and whether the plan leaves out anything vital for the arts in Missouri, Strohmeyer said.

The Missouri Senate on Wednesday approved a spending bill that includes $7.8 million for the Missouri Arts Council Trust Fund, up from $3.3 million this year. The bill also more than doubles the funding for public broadcasting stations and the Missouri Humanities Council. Both sectors would receive $1.3 million each in the year beginning July 1, up from $550,000 a piece the year before.

The bill needs a final House vote before being sent to Gov. Matt Blunt for his signature. The increased funding was part of Blunt's original budget proposal.

The extra money will be used to provide $500,000 for arts programs in legislative districts that currently receive no funding, Strohmeyer said. The extra money in rural districts has a political component as part of the artistic purpose, she said.

"We feel that it is difficult to get legislators to support increased funding for us if there is no funding going into their districts," Strohmeyer said.

The draft strategic plan calls for promoting the growth of the arts in underserved areas by targeting arts organizations for funding.

The plan lays out four goals, ranging from making Missouri an arts leader to increasing participation and making the arts a vital part of economic growth. The council also wants to improve arts education by providing professional development for teachers and increasing funding for organizations that provide art education.

Over the past two years, the bulk of arts council grants have been awarded in Kansas City and St. Louis, said Bill Meerbott, assistant director. In 2006, for example, 64 percent of the grant funds were spent in the major cities, he said.

Locally, only a handful of grants have been awarded, with five grants totaling $21,494 for Cape Girardeau in 2006, and three grants totaling $20,013 this year.

Each grant application is evaluated, but 94 percent of all grant applicants received some funding over the past two years, Meerbott said.

One reason for the low number of grants locally is that writing the application for aid is time consuming, said Delilah Tayloe, director of the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri.

Experience pays off as well, she said. Of 11 counties in the region, six made no applications over the past two years, she said.

"It is a very time consuming process and most grants take 40 straight hours of undivided attention to write," Tayloe said. "But somebody is going to go after that grant money, and the prepared group has the advantage."

Smaller communities are at a disadvantage because many have no arts organizations ready to make grant applications. That often leaves it up to individuals, Tayloe said.

"We are fortunate to have the facility we do at the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri, where top-notch artists joined together and made things happen," she said.


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