From 1998 to 2008, there was annual growth nationally in capacity of the arts industries, with more artists, arts businesses and related jobs, according to the recently published National Arts Index, an annual measure of the health of the arts produced by Americans for the Arts. Nonprofit arts organizations alone grew in number to 104,000 from 73,000 during this time.
The arts have grown locally, too, and by 2008, Springfield boasted 30 art galleries, eight live theater venues, its own independent movie theater and 56 arts and cultural organizations, leading to 346 local full-time jobs and $11.4 million in consumer spending during 2009, according to the 2009 Arts and Economic Prosperity Calculator.
By the end of 2008 as the economic climate shifted, the National Arts Index fell 4.2 percent, with losses in both charitable giving and attendance, although there was a rise in overall cultural offerings.
The local trend is not much different, as the arts community faces the hurdle of sustaining capacity. With an increasingly technological nation, it is no surprise that the arts are becoming less “high art” and more grassroots, with a growing number of personal creators making art or downloading it on the musical side. The result is that attendance at mainstream arts performances is in a decline.
What makes Springfield so unique in facing these challenges is its collaborative spirit, which has garnered national attention. Most recently, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts chose Springfield as the second city in the nation to receive its Any Given Child grant initiative, largely due to the close relationship between the public school system, city government, local foundations and the arts.
The 2007 Community Focus report identified the need for area arts organizations to share staff to reduce the financial burdens on organizations and indirectly on sponsors and donors. And that is exactly what local organizations have been working to do.
The Springfield Regional Arts Council provides fiscal services to young arts groups, including many that focus on nontraditional arts. The council also provides a shared facility manager at The Creamery Arts Center, which houses the Springfield Ballet, Springfield Regional Opera and Springfield Symphony Orchestra, and a shared costume shop, set design studio, boardroom and arts library.
The Community Foundation of the Ozarks also has taken leadership in the arts with its Arts Programming Sustainability Initiative, which focuses on endowment building, arts education coordination and general awareness. Tackling the challenge of building a new generation of arts appreciators and participants, local arts organizations provide free programs and performances for the region’s at-risk youth and public and private schools.
Public and private funding has a large impact in making these free programs possible. Missouri has had a strong showing during the past few years in terms of funding for the arts for the Missouri Arts Council, which trickles down in grant monies to local arts organizations. With every state budget line being cut due to declining tax revenues, the arts are no exception.
It is a unique community that values and realizes the importance of arts and culture especially in a time of economic distress. This is a time when all citizens need to be uplifted, either by gathering at a local event or festival, catching a Sunday afternoon movie, enjoying live theater, walking through a park or seeing a public mural.
The Springfield arts have a direct economic impact, and artists, groups and businesses are dedicated to serving this community in a creative, collaborative and innovative fashion.Leah Hamilton Jenkins is executive director of the Springfield Regional Arts Council. She may be reached at email@example.com.