Three years ago local Baton Rouge artist Laura Teague received a $1,500 grant from the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation, which she used to have her work professionally photographed for marketing purposes. After six weeks Teague saw online sales of her jewelry spike 50 percent, which she credits to those photos.
In 2009, the Manship Theatre was awarded a $3,500 grant by the same foundation to help fund consulting services to improve the theater’s concession bar.
After better signage and an improved selection, concession sales improved 58 percent, compared to the same period a year before, according to documents filed with the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation.
These are just some examples of how more than $1 million in grant funding provided by the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation has been used by more than 400 artists, cultural organizations and businesses across the state in the last three years.
The purpose of the grant program is growing the state’s cultural economy, a somewhat general economic sector that includes food, art, design and other creative ventures.
It’s a $12 billion a year industry in Louisiana with more than 150,000 workers making up 7.6 percent of the work force. It is second to the health-care industry, according to a recent study by the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation.
“We want the cultural economy to be recognized as an important industry and an economic development engine in the state of Louisiana because it’s not just art for art’s sake,” said Lisa Picone, director of the foundation’s grant program.
The Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation — a New Orleans-based nonprofit — funds its grant program primarily through private donations, Picone noted.
The hope is the grant funds will help cultural workers earn more money and spawn other cultural jobs.
Eighty-seven percent of projects awarded generated income or revenue as a result of the grant, according to the “2011 Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation Economic Impact and Return on Investment” report released in May. The report — compiled by the Hospitality Research Center at the University of New Orleans — found that each dollar of grant funding generated $5.10 in new economic activity.
Equipment purchases tended to top the list of how recipients used their grant money, based on a survey administered by UNO to grant recipients. However, other common uses included marketing, website development and supplies.
Teague, who designs and makes sterling silver jewelry, used a $965 grant in 2009 to purchase a kiln for her studio that would aid the production of delicate glass beads, which Teague uses in her jewelry. The improved craftsmanship elevated her work to allow it to be selected for a New Orleans art show, which Teague had been previously rejected.
“The kiln that I was able to purchase is small and is perfect for annealing glass beads,” Teague said, referring to a process where super-heated glass is slowly cooled through the use of a kiln. Bringing down the temperature in a controlled environment eliminates stress and the possibility of breakage or cracking, Teague explained.
By all indications, the grants are translating into a ripple of economic activity. Between 2008 and 2010, grant recipients generated an average of $7,423 additional income as a result of the grant funds, according to the UNO survey of recipients.
However, by 2010 donations to the foundation had dropped off sharply due to the recession. The cultural economy foundation received 316 applications for grants, but was only able to fund 25 projects with just under $71,000 — down from more than $550,000 in 2008.
“What I’m seeing is that even though our funding took a little hit in 2010, I think our grant program has been extremely successful in spite of the recession,” Picone said. “The economic impact study pretty much confirmed what we believed: which is, we give the small seed money to the recipients and on average, they triple it.”
One of those 25 recipients in 2010 was the Burden Horticulture Society in Baton Rouge, which received $1,580 from the cultural economy foundation. The money was used primarily to allay some of the costs associated with an art show fundraiser and photography workshop the society held, said Ginnie Bolin, who helped organize the event.
The money was used to build a mobile lattice support system to display the art. Also, spotlights had to be installed in the conference center, she explained. The February 2010 show included 50 juried works of art. About half of them sold,
“which is sort of unheard of,” Bolin said about the response the show garnered. “It was a wonderful show.”
Since the event was a fundraiser, the Burden Horticulture Society kept 20 percent of the proceeds from the sale, leaving the rest for the artists, a nod to the economic activity generated by the grant funding. After expenses, the horticulture society netted $4,386, said Bolin.
“I think we reached artists that had never been reached before,” Bolin said.
“To me, it’s helping the art community.”