City moves toward giving Columbia arts group a new designation. Here’s what it means

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Columbia City Council approved a contract with a key arts nonprofit that could open the door to more federal funding for arts and culture in Columbia.

The council on Tuesday passed its annual contract with One Columbia for Arts and Culture, the city-funded nonprofit that has advocated for the arts in the capital city for nearly a decade. But in a new wrinkle in that contract, it designates One Columbia as a “local arts agency,” a notation that could begin to change the dynamics for the nonprofit.

One Columbia Executive Director Lee Snelgrove and at-large City Councilman Howard Duvall said the council might also soon consider a broader resolution designating One Columbia as a local arts agency. Duvall said he is hopeful the resolution will come before the council in the next month.

There are 4,500 local arts agencies in the U.S., according to the nonprofit advocacy agency Americans for the Arts.

“Lots of different types of groups serve in that (local arts agency) role,” Snelgrove said. “Some cities have an office of cultural affairs, some cities have a nonprofit that is external to the city government. Basically, what local arts agency status does is allow an arts agency to kind of work on behalf of a government, particularly when it comes to requesting grant funds.”

Snelgrove mentioned that, recently, there was grant funding from the National Endowment for the Arts — set aside in the American Rescue Plan COVID relief package — that One Columbia could have potentially tapped into and redistributed to arts groups in the Columbia area. However, because it didn’t have a local arts agency designation, it couldn’t tap into those funds, which was up to $150,000.

Snelgrove said the designation would also allow One Columbia the opportunity to better leverage funding from the state Arts Commission that could be regranted to local artists.

“We’ve already been doing the work, much of the work that a local arts agency does,” Snelgrove said. “They typically run public arts programs. They sometimes provide cultural facilities. They sometimes provide grant opportunities. Over the last year we’ve been working with council on thinking through that process and getting them to recognize us as such, so that we can start to build the kind of ability to connect with the NEA and leverage that with the Arts Commission and start building projects with larger nonprofits that benefit the whole community.”

Through the possibility of more grant dollars, One Columbia and local artists would have expanded opportunities for more cultural events, Snelgrove said.

“We’d be able to do more public art,” Snelgrove said. “We’d be able to provide professional opportunities for artists and arts organizations. We’d be more able to work with neighborhoods and create cultural opportunities in individual neighborhoods. ... Our job has always been to create a stronger and more collaborative arts community. In having this designation, we’d be able to do that better and bigger. It would make more opportunities for arts organizations to expand their programming.”

The city of Greenville has a designated local arts agency, the nonprofit Metropolitan Arts Council. Snelgrove said it has proven beneficial in that Upstate city.

“A lot of people look to Greenville and say, ‘Boy, there’s a lot of arts stuff going on,’” the One Columbia director said. “They have big arts festivals and art activities. It’s largely because they have an organization that has served in this role for a very long time.”

While the annual contract the city council approved Tuesday designates One Columbia as a local arts agency, Snelgrove noted that is a one-year contract and that he is hoping for a resolution soon, as that clarifies the broader intent of the city.

“It’s good that they put that language in there, and it’s appropriate and I’m glad to see it,” Snelgrove said. “We also need them to make the more formal statement in a resolution, because the contract is year-to-year. We need the more formal statement so that we can see multi-year grant opportunities with the NEA.”

Duvall, a member of council’s arts and preservation committee, said he expects there will be a resolution regarding the designation on an upcoming council agenda, possibly as soon as November.

“I have been in support of the resolution,” Duvall said. “I think this really has the potential of really increasing the funding resources for arts in the community.”

Tuesday’s contract will send $52,300 in city funds to One Columbia and, paired with hospitality tax funding already approved, give the organization a total of about $136,000 in city funds for this budget year. The last two years’ budgets have been affected by COVID-19. Prior to the global pandemic, One Columbia was getting a total of about $169,000 a year from the city.

Snelgrove said the local arts agency designation wouldn’t immediately trigger more city funding to One Columbia. However, he noted the organization has asked the city for more money, to hire a community engagement specialist and a public art administrator.

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