by Sue Greenberg, Executive Director
It all began in 1981 with Zia Gipson, who worked for the City’s Arts & Humanities Commission (which later became the Regional Arts Commission). Zia knew our arts community needed access to pro bono legal services. So she asked Saint Louis University School of Law’s dean to help her establish our service organization. Zia, Marvin J. Nodiff (then a law student), Richard E. Haferkamp and Darwin Portman filed articles of incorporation in 1982. Accountants were added in 1984. We are one of only three organizations in our national network that offers accounting services.
I credit Jill A. McGuire, retired executive director of the Regional Arts Commission and her staff with our success. In 1986, their encouragement came with an invitation to be housed within the RAC office and increased grant support that allowed us to grow.
When I accepted the executive director position in 1986, I thought I’d stay a year or two. Happily, I was wrong (again)! Ken Konchel, our dedicated part-time associate director, was hired in 2006. We never underestimate the power of voluntarism and are ever grateful to the lawyers and accountants who are essential to everything we do.
During the last 40 years, new referrals have grown from 20 to about 200 annually. That’s more — way more — than $350,000 in quality pro bono services, not including the ongoing relationships between volunteers and clients that continue for decades. Our educational programs include a wide variety of professional development workshops and clinics. In 2022, our speakers made 34 free presentations in college classrooms.
We’ve also been active in advocacy efforts from protecting street performers’ rights to supporting initiatives that impact artists’ ability to work and thrive, including development of affordable live/work space and access to healthcare. We join with local, state and national colleagues who argue that government has a responsibility to fund the arts and to ensure that the creative economy is explicitly included in policymaking.
At the end of 2019, we started a new chapter when we moved to the High Low, the Kranzberg Arts Foundation’s literary arts venue in the Grand Center arts district. The building includes office suites, a coffee shop, an event space and a gallery.
Then Covid-19. To support artists and nonprofits facing unprecedented challenges and stress during the pandemic, we waived fees, presented free educational programs online and introduced a weekly e-blast that is still popular with our readers. We fielded questions about cancelled gigs, PPP loans, missing stimulus checks and virtual programming. We also provided unemployment benefit guidance and represented numerous artists who were frightened by erroneous overpayment bills sent by the Missouri Department of Labor.
We receive many messages expressing appreciation for our assistance. Here’s my favorite from the early months of the pandemic: “You’ve always been here for us, and it is psychologically helpful to know that you’re here for us now.”
We remain committed to making our services, programs and operations responsive to the changing needs of our creative community. Gifts from individual donors, grants and corporate support inspire us and keep our engine running.
For their leadership, vision and pragmatism, I’m extending much thanks to our current and former board members and with a special shout out to our former board presidents: G. Harley Blosser, Kim Allen Bozark, C.K. Casteel Jr., Angela Morton Conley, Barbara Enneking, Richard E. Haferkamp, Susan Hagen, Ruth E. Kim, Steven D. Korenblat, Don G. Lents, H. Max Lummis IV, R. Emmett McAuliffe, Stan J. Mengwasser, Marvin J. Nodiff, Linda Paradis, Darwin Portman, John A. Rava, James R. Reeves, Mark Sableman, Robert B. Seiffert, Matthew J. Smith and Nancy Starnes.
Finally, much thanks to our region’s amazing artists and cultural organizations for enriching our lives.
Here’s to the next 40 years!