The perks of being an art-centric town: funding for art programs in Columbia
As a typical college town with a population of approximately 120,000, Columbia stands out as an art-centric community with prosperous artistic programs based on financial support from governmental bodies disproportionate to the city’s size.
The Office of Cultural Affairs, an advisory body to the Columbia City Council, has been working in close liaison with various individuals and organizations to help infuse arts into the community since its establishment in 1992. After more than two decades of evolving, the art scene benefits more than just Columbia residents. Programs such as the True/False Film Festival, “We Always Swing” Jazz Series and Columbia Art League’s Art in the Park are considered nationally acknowledged events that attract visitors from all over the country.
Constant financial support from the Office of Cultural Affairs has been provided to these organizations, a great deal of which directly comes from city government. J.J. Musgrove, director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, decides the amount of funding set aside from the city budget specifically for arts and culture. The allocation has to be approved by the city manager and the Columbia City Council in September each year after a series of public work sessions and hearings. The total amount has surged from $38,025 in 1991 to roughly $100,000 in 2015.
“Economics, public safety, tourism and quality of life are the general rationales,” Musgrove said. “A community without these artistic and cultural offerings is a community that isn’t growing, isn’t well-educated and isn’t able to think creatively about problems and challenges.”
As these agencies kept expanding exponentially, the gap between the money requested and the funding the city was willing to spare became more and more significant. In 2012, the Columbia Arts Fund came into existence to augment the funding with an initial $10,000 from the Community Foundation of Central Missouri.
When it comes to the intention of establishing this endowment fund, Program Specialist Sarah Dresser said it was not meant to be a grant program. “We are contracting them to do these services for the community,” she said.
The Columbia Arts Fund mainly relies on investments, meaning that the money available will accumulate over time before a certain percentage is taken out annually to supplement funding offered by the city. It currently has a balance of about $135,000, approximately $6,500 of which will augment the $100,000 annual funding this year to support 27 arts and culture organizations.
CoMoGives, an online fundraising campaign initiated by the Community Foundation of Central Missouri, also facilitates these agencies on a yearly basis. After reaching out to potential patrons who are interested in public art, the Office of Cultural Affairs uses the CoMoGives website as a platform to boost the fund every year in December.
“The city budget is under great constraints,” said John D. Baker, executive director of the Community Foundation of Central Missouri. “Art is considered something not as essential as the Police Department or the Fire Department by some people.”
CoMoGives is a purely donor-directed campaign. Donors can decide both the amount and the recipient. “We Always Swing” Jazz Series, a program dedicated to promote and celebrate jazz music, topped the leaderboard in 2015, receiving 177 gifts and $30,462 worth of donations.
The annual budget of the widely beloved program is about $300,000, which is more than 10 times higher than the budget when it kicked off in 1995. Although bringing reputable musicians including Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins and Wynton Marsalis almost guarantees ticket revenue, donations are needed to keep the momentum going. A total amount of $72,000 has been raised from individuals so far this year, about 45 percent of which accumulated through CoMoGives during the span of one month.
“When this jazz series first applied for funding, there were probably only 10 of us requesting,” said Jon Poses, founder and director of the series. “But now it is fair to say that there aren’t too many cities this size that have an arts commission that is as active and involved as the Office of Cultural Affairs. You really have to be a non-art person not to notice all the arts in this town.”
Apart from fostering the appreciation for arts and enriching the community, efforts made by non-profit organizations brought art tourism onto the city’s calendar because of the immense economic impact generated over the years. The Convention and Visitors Bureau aims at promoting Columbia as a destination for tourism and is solely funded by the 4 percent lodging tax on local hotel rooms, 1 percent of which goes to the tourism development program, offering financial support for the art industry.
“There are some misconceptions about how there is no return of investment from art and tourism departments,” said Megan McConachie, marketing manager for the Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It does contribute to the quality of life that we get to enjoy here all the time, and when you bring tourism into the fold, there’s so much additional economic impact.”
Galleries, museums and performing arts were among the top 10 activities visitors to Columbia participated in. Furthermore, visitor-related expenditures in Boone County exceeded $395 million in fiscal 2015.
Art in the Park, the annual festival held by the Columbia Art League since its founding in 1959, is a great example of showing art tourism’s potential. The two-day event attracts more than 10,000 visitors to Stephens Lake Park for a feast of visual arts every year in the first weekend of June.
But Diana Moxon, executive director of Columbia Art League, thinks the contribution from the city is still insufficient.
“Columbia definitely can be a city for art tourism. We are a small city in terms of how much philanthropy is available, but we want to be this large city in terms of what we produce,” she said. “There is a tradeoff and imbalance here: If I get a great donation from some businesses, the cost is that another organization will not get the money.”
The funding received by Columbia Art League in the last year fluctuated around $7,000, which accounted for less than 10 percent of their annual funding and was incomparable to the benefits of the activities and classes the organization provides.
“I think we are fortunate to live in a city where arts funding is available, but every successful organization has to have income streams, ” Moxon said. “We cannot be reliant on just the city or state funding since it is not a guarantee.”
Moxon has good reasons to be concerned. Artistic programs occupy a tiny fraction of the overall city budget. A similar situation can be found in the spending patterns of consumers.
According to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies’ report of fiscal 2015, Missouri spent 79 cents per capita on the arts, which was more than 30 percent below the national average.
Sidebar: Non-profit organizations are not the only recipients of the financial support offered by the City of Columbia.
In May 1997, the Columbia City Council created the Percent for Art program, which allows 1 percent of the cost of new city construction or renovations to be used for site-specific public art. Along with Kansas City and Warrensburg, Columbia is one of the three Missouri cities that has such a program.
To stimulate the public’s involvement in public art, comment periods are an inherent part of the process of choosing artworks for the program, when people can submit their thoughts. Office of Cultural Affairs Program Specialist Sarah Dresser said the Standing Committee of Public Art, which assists the City Council by making recommendations on artworks to be commissioned, would take that into consideration before the recommendations are submitted to the city.
The Traffic Box Art project, an ongoing public art program dedicated to decorating traffic signal boxes in downtown Columbia with art, is an example of how Percent for Art can benefit the community. It started in 2007 with the intention to stop vandalism. With the help of a handful of mid-Missouri artists and fundings of $2,000 per box, 10 boxes have been selected and painted.
“Graffiti vandals don’t want to tag our electrical boxes downtown that are artistically painted,” said J.J. Musgrove, director of the Office of Cultural Affairs. “Therefore, we have mini public art exhibits to deter mongering vandalism so that our citizens can feel safe.”
Although Columbia has evolved into a town of great artistic values in recent years, the impact generated by arts in the state of Missouri is underwhelming compared to other states in the U.S.
According to a research study published by Americans for the Arts, a national non-profit organization focused on supporting arts, Missouri is home to 11,070 arts-related businesses that employ 49,100 people. The creative industries account for 3.4 percent of the total number of businesses in Missouri and 1.6 percent of the people they employ. Whereas nationally, businesses involved in the creation or distribution of the arts represent 3.9 percent of all businesses and hold 1.9 percent of all U.S. employees.