UMSL Accelerate announces plans for creative arts accelerator at screening of Brian Owens’ holiday special

by | Dec 13, 2021

UMSL Accelerate and Brian Owens unveiled plans for an UMSL-led creative arts accelerator to help create a thriving arts industry in St. Louis.
Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis President and CEO Vanessa Cooksey, E. Desmond Lee Community Music Artist in Residence Brian Owens and UMSL Accelerate Founding Executive Director Dan Lauer

(From left) Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis President and CEO Vanessa Cooksey, E. Desmond Lee Community Music Artist in Residence Brian Owens and UMSL Accelerate Founding Executive Director Dan Lauer discuss the potential economic impact of the creative arts and announce plans for a creative arts accelerator at last week’s Creative Arts Lunch and Learn at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. (Photos by August Jennewein)

Brian Owens, E. Desmond Lee Community Music Artist in Residence, brought up the topic on everyone’s minds.

“Is there any money in the arts or being creative?” he asked at Wednesday’s Creative Arts Lunch and Learn at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis President and CEO Vanessa Cooksey answered: “There’s plenty of money.”

Owens’ query was rhetorical. The successfully 2008 music alumnus and soul musician already believes in the fiscal power of the creative arts and was there to share his vision for investing in the future of arts in the greater St. Louis area. UMSL Accelerate and Owens announced plans for an UMSL-led creative arts accelerator intended to help create a thriving arts industry in St. Louis.

“This is about creating people who can create opportunities, that’s what entrepreneurs do,” Owens said. “We forget that when we support entrepreneurs, people create opportunities for other people. Low scale, high impact: You invest in five, six entrepreneurs, they can help thousands.”

Sophia Stevens, Brian Owens and Malena Smith

(From left) Sophia Stevens, Owens and Malena Smith discuss the process of developing “An Intimate Christmas,” a short film which follows the story of a live-streamed holiday special that sees more than its fair share of disasters – and triumphs.

Similar in concept to the UMSL Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accelerator, the creative arts accelerator would give six entrepreneurs $50,000 in non-dilutive capital alongside in-kind resources such as business classes, mentorship and paid student interns. UMSL Accelerate Founding Executive Director Dan Lauer hopes to conclude fundraising for the new venture and announce details in January.

There’s plenty of creative talent in the area, Owens said, but people leave because there aren’t opportunities. His hope is to create those opportunities by subsidizing the creative arts industry in St. Louis and in areas, such as North St. Louis, that often don’t see much investment.

“When it comes to tech, biotech, all the other industries, it’s like, ‘Got to make sure that infrastructure is there. You got to make sure you subsidize,’” Owens said. “You know how many people in tech are subsidized to do what they do? But when it comes to art, we don’t do that. This is the time to do it.”

Owens knows the financial viability of the creative arts better than most. Never was that more apparent than during the event’s screening of his holiday special, “An Intimate Christmas,” which follows the story of a live-streamed holiday special that sees more than its fair share of disasters – and triumphs.

Owens’ nonprofit, LIFE Creative Group, shot the film in the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. Sophia Stevens produced, wrote the script and starred alongside the lead, UMSL alumna Malena Smith.

“We have an opportunity right now to do something out of North County, within this region, that is unique, that is special, that is different and will have an impact holistic,” Owens said. “It’s not just about building out an industry that’s great for an industry’s sake. It’s about building an industry that has a direct impact on our community. What you’re going to see today is just a small sample size of what is possible.”

Nine PBS will air “An Intimate Christmas” on Dec. 14, 17 and 25, and interested parties can get a sneak peek at the film’s trailer.

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