A flurry of forthcoming award ceremonies and the energy at Wednesday’s creative industry luncheon painted the picture of a local arts and culture sector aiming for a progressive future.

Around 350 representatives of the arts and culture industry gathered Wednesday at the Pearl Stable to hear the announcement of a new initiative aimed at creating cultural equity and maximizing arts and culture’s economic impact on San Antonio. The San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce co-hosted the event.

Debbie Racca-Sittre, executive director of the City’s Department of Arts & Culture, unveiled CulTÚArt, a five-year strategic plan, “which focuses on cultural equity to make the arts accessible to all San Antonians for the future.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s keynote speech echoed Racca-Sittre’s commitment to cultural equity, earning him a standing ovation. “Equity is truly essential for San Antonio to be a city of the future,” Nirenberg said, alluding to the City’s use of an “equity lens” during the budget process.

“Everyone has a seat at the table,” Nirenberg said.

A seat at the arts and culture table includes the potential for citizens and fans of the arts to participate in a citywide survey, Racca-Sittre said. The survey aims to track the importance and effects of arts and culture on the lives of San Antonio’s citizens and on its economy. To be administered via a phone survey as well as at various arts and culture events, the results will inform the strategic plan.

Also informing the plan is a City-sponsored study of the economic impact of San Antonio’s cultural organizations. At the luncheon, guest speaker Steve Nivin, chief economist for the Hispanic Chamber and director of the SABÉR Research Institute at St. Mary’s University, presented hard data on the money and jobs that music, dance, visual arts, design, museums, and related industries bring to the city.

The San Antonio Creative Industry 2017 Economic Impact Assessment Study used an encompassing definition of what constitutes the city’s “creative industry,” including design, advertising, broadcast, printing, and culinary arts in addition to more traditional creative professions in the performing and visual arts. An important “multiplier effect” lies in export dollars, Nivin said, the money creative producers bring back to the city from products sold outside.

Including export dollars, “the overall impact of the [creative] industry on San Antonio in 2016 was about $4 billion,” Nivin said. “The total impact on employment was almost 25,000 [jobs]. You’ve got $1.1 billion in income. That’s a pretty large impact.”

But the impact of arts and culture goes well beyond dollars and economic data. The arts are “an essential element of our children’s education,” Nirenberg said. “In many ways, [they are] as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic.”

The storytelling power of the arts helps children understand themselves, he said, which is “key to unlocking their understanding of our city’s history and accomplishment, and therefore their own potential in the world.”

The forthcoming Tricentennial celebration will be “the best opportunity in our lifetimes to tell our story to the world,” Nirenberg said. Through the arts, “we will demonstrate our rich cultural heritage and our readiness to boldly build our future.”

The imminent future holds ample recognition for the movers and shakers in San Antonio’s arts and culture scene.

The Tobin Center on Thursday will host the San Antonio Fashion Awards; the Texas Motion Picture Alliance Impact Awards will be presented at the Henry B. González Convention Center Saturday; the Alamo Theatre Arts Council Globe will hand out its awards Sunday.

On Tuesday, the City’s Department of Arts & Culture will recognize awardees for the 2017 Distinction in the Arts Celebration; and the San Antonio Sound Garden’s music industry study will be released on Nov. 1.

“What our story looks like in the future is up to us,” Nirenberg said.

The mayor’s new Arts, Culture, and Heritage Committee, chaired by City Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), will include initiatives and policies “that bring the San Antonio community together, boost economic development, and celebrate our diversity through art, through its history, and through our cultural missions,” Nirenberg said.

If you are not among the respondents to the CulTÚArt phone survey, look for it at various performances and cultural events around town over the next three weeks.

“Now is the time that we must come together as a community,” Nirenberg said, “to ensure our arts continue to inspire, innovate, and propel San Antonio into the next 300 years and beyond.”

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...