Arts & Education Council Finds a Home at Centene Center


On the cusp of its 50th anniversary, the Arts and Education Council announces another major milestone in its history – the purchase of its first home at the Centene Center for Arts and Education. Located in the Grand Center Arts District, the beautiful Gothic-style white glazed terra cotta façade building at 3547 Olive Street is home to 18 arts and arts education organizations. The first of its kind in the St. Louis region, the Centene Center for Arts and Education is an arts incubator that offers below-market rent, shared rehearsal, event and meeting spaces as well as technological infrastructure to all of its tenants.

The Arts and Education Council is the region's United Arts Fund and functions as its arts umbrella organization.
A&E has an illustrious history in funding and shaping St. Louis' arts and culture scene since 1963, providing more than 2,800 grants totaling more than $100 million in funds raised from tens of thousands of individual donors. Each year, Arts and Education Council grants are directed to nearly 70 arts and arts education organizations across the 16-county, bi-state St. Louis metropolitan region that we serve.

"The purchase of the Centene Center for Arts and Education creates greater opportunities to fulfill our mission in shaping a vibrant arts community for everyone," stated Cynthia A. Prost, president, A&E. "In just seven years as master lessee, we have accomplished a great deal, and we look forward to what we will be able to accomplish through our new home over the next 50 years."

The purchase was made possible by a low interest loan through IFF, the largest nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) lending solely to nonprofits in the Midwest. This financing enabled A&E to purchase the property from Owen Development, which rehabilitated the property in 2005 using an array of public and private funding sources, including New Markets Tax Credit financing. This June marked the end of the programmatic seven-year compliance period, during which time New Markets funding remained invested in the low-income community.

In 2003, the Arts and Education Council (A&E) began to search for a new permanent home that would provide space for A&E, as well as space for other small and mid-size nonprofit arts organizations. A&E's vision was to create an arts incubator that would offer shared spaces for organizations and opportunities for collaboration – all at affordable, below-market rents.

Grand Center, Inc., a nonprofit organization designated to foster and promote performing arts in St. Louis, worked with A&E to create a financing structure that included Steve Trampe of Owen Development, federal Historic and New Markets Tax Credit equity from U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation, a loan from U.S. Bank, state Historic Tax Credit equity, and a Grand Center TIF allocation of $3 million. Grand Center, Inc., which had held the building for development for 18 years, also waived over $250,000 in maintenance and insurance costs that had accrued. The remaining costs for renovation, approximately $2.5 million, were raised with private funds by A&E, beginning with a leadership gift from the Centene Charitable Foundation.

"The ownership of the Centene Center for Arts and Education building is a fulfillment of a dream that is especially significant as we prepare for our 50th anniversary celebration in 2013," said Michael W. Weisbrod, chair of the Board of the Arts and Education Council. "The entire Grand Center Arts District has grown and developed substantially since we began our journey with the building seven years ago. I believe that our stabilizing presence and the fact that 18 arts organizations call the Centene Center for Arts and Education their home greatly enhances the vibrancy of the district and certainly the city," stated Weisbrod. "Visitors are amazed by the diversity of arts organizations at the Centene Center for Arts and Education as they get ready for their seasons, teach classes, hold performances in the auditorium and interface with one another as can only happen as neighbors. It is truly a joy to behold."

The Centene Center for Arts and Education began its life in the late 1880s when Jacob Mahler built a dance studio. In 1906, Ann Hamilton Bailey deeded additional frontage space and in 1907, Archbishop John J. Glennon dedicated the new home of the Knights of Columbus with great fanfare and spectacle. This architectural masterpiece, designed by Baker and Knell, would become the showpiece for the Knights of Columbus for decades to come.

Later the structure served as home to the International Machinists Union and the Medinah Temple. After nearly twenty years without occupancy, the arts have returned to this space. Many of the original architectural features installed during the days of the Knights of Columbus Hall have been preserved - the beautiful Gothic-style white glazed terra cotta façade, the corridors lined in Italian marble, the original tile and wooden floors and the elaborate ironwork.

Through the leadership gift of the Centene Charitable Foundation, the Centene Center for Arts and Education provides arts organizations with a vast array of offices, rehearsal and performance spaces and technology.

In addition to the many events, performances and workshops hosted by its tenants, the Centene Center has become a central hub for the arts community. The Arts Leadership and Management Academy, launched earlier in 2012 by A&E in collaboration with the Nonprofit Services Center, offers training and support for arts and cultural organizations through a series of affordable management workshops. The Academy is also home to the Executive Directors Roundtable, a professionally led program that brings together executive directors of arts and cultural organizations to share ideas and best practices and to discuss common challenges in a supportive environment. The pilot year of the Arts Leadership and Management Academy is generously funded by Wells Fargo Advisors.

Arts marketing professionals also benefit from the shared space at the Centene Center for Arts and Education with a bi-monthly Arts Marketers meeting focused on a wide range of topics related to the unique marketing challenges faced by arts organizations.

The Centene Center for Arts and Education, now owned and operated by the Arts and Education Council, will continue to serve as a dynamic cultural hub for the arts in our community for many years to come.

Arts and Education Council – Established in 1963, the Arts and Education Council is the St. Louis region's United Arts Fund providing financial, technical and educational support for arts organizations. Since its inception, the Arts and Education Council has raised and distributed over $100 million in private funding for the arts -- a significant contribution that directly impacts the quality of life of our 16-county, bi-state St. Louis metropolitan region. With funds raised, the Arts and Education Council has provided more than 2,800 grants and annually assists approximately 70 nonprofit arts and arts education organizations. Additionally, the Arts and Education Council provides office, rehearsal and performance space for 18 arts nonprofit organizations in the Centene Center for Arts and Education, a unique arts incubator located in the Grand Center Arts District. Visit or call 314.289.4000 for more information.

Grand Center, Inc. – Grand Center is the major arts and entertainment district in the St. Louis region and is home to more than 30 arts organizations that demonstrate the depth, quality and diversity of the city's cultural life. The district hosts more than 1,500 cultural events each year and welcomes over 1.5 million visitors annually. Grand Center's artistic renaissance began with the restoration of Powell Hall and the Fabulous Fox Theatre and continues today with the growing vitality of restaurants, retail, commercial and residential development. Grand Center, Inc. is the nonprofit organization that oversees the management and development of St. Louis' historic arts district. For more information about Grand Center and Grand Center, Inc., visit

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