Grant program was to dole out grants up to $20,000

From Virginia Business By

RICHMOND, Va. — Creativity should be valued as an important part of the Virginia economy, said the state lawmaker behind legislation to create the Virginia Creative Economy Grant Program.

Located in downtown Richmond near Virginia Commonwealth University, Noah “Noah-O” Oddo’s Charged Up ENT flagship store sells clothing, accessories and CDs. Photo by Faith Redd.

Del. Jackie Glass, D-Norfolk, introduced House Bill 2376 to establish a dedicated funding source for grant awards no more than $20,000 each to independent content creators and creative entrepreneurs. The program would be managed by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership Authority. VEDP collaborates with local and regional partners to encourage expansion and diversification of Virginia’s economy, according to its website.

A creative worker is considered anyone that produces and distributes creativity and arts-based goods and services, according to a handout from Glass.

Virginia’s creative workers produce film, art, music, software, video games, television and radio, according to the bill.

The U.S. creative economy annually generates over $900 billion, according to Glass. Almost $18 billion of that is generated in Virginia. The creative economy businesses in Virginia lost at least $2.6 billion in revenue in 2020, according to Glass.

Noah “Noah-O” Oddo is a local entrepreneur. Oddo owns Charged Up ENT, a record label that has been around since 2002. He opened the flagship store of Charged up ENT in Richmond’s downtown Art’s District.

Oddo would put the money directly into his business if there was grant funding, he said.

 “We can’t exist without the people’s support,” Oddo said. “If you would like to see more of this and Virginia to continue to grow in this direction, that’s what’s needed, support in the form of dollars.”

The bill did not have enough support to make it through the House General Laws subcommittee, where it was tabled on a 4-2 vote. However, there was support for the idea, Glass said.

Glass said people from the other side of the aisle approached her to discuss further action, including Del. James Morefield, R-Tazewell.

Glass and Morefield will work alongside the VEDP after the General Assembly session ends, to try and secure funding, Glass said.

“It’s not dead, I mean, it’s dead as far as a piece of legislation, but it’s not dead administratively,” Glass said.

There is also the Virginia Commission for the Arts, a state agency that offers creative grants. The VCA invests in arts leaders, arts educators, and arts practitioners, according to its website.

The creative industry is among the most impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic drain on nonprofits and other funding sources, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Brent Royal is a Richmond entrepreneur who owns the Good Money Counting Kit clothing brand. He sells products through social media and his website. Royal said he was discouraged to hear that the bill failed. He thinks the bill could have helped small businesses struggling from inflation and the economic impacts of COVID-19.

Royal worked two jobs to start his businesses, he said. He also launched the nonprofit Good Money Give Back and he puts 10% of his profits into it, to help the community. For example, Royal gave flowers to teachers for Valentine’s Day, has held clothing and backpack drives for children, and is working on a mentoring program for young men.

Royal previously received grant funding and would apply for potential VEDP funding if the process moved forward. He would reinvest in the community by opening a clothing store, creating jobs for locals and using profits to reinvest in his nonprofit, he said.

The main focus for his brand is to inspire entrepreneurship, according to Royal. The state could do a better job at maintaining relationships with entrepreneurs, he said.

“It’s kind of hard to be an entrepreneur in Virginia, just because there’s so many different tax things you have to deal with federally, locally,” Royal said.

Glass introduced the bill because she is a creative entrepreneur herself, she said. She has a podcast called “Your Neighbor’s Hood,” where she discusses uncomfortable cultural conversations with co-host Hannah Sobol. Glass monetized the venture, she said.

Creative entrepreneurs have the heart to create work but struggle to make a living out of what they do, Glass said.

“We don’t have that creative infrastructure here,” Glass said.

The funding for creatives is considered sustainable because 83 cents of every $1 invested in a creative worker is reinvested locally, according to a handout from Glass. The creative sector also increases travel and tourism to improve the economy.

“This is another industry of economics that can drive and bring dollars to the commonwealth,” Glass said.

Oddo visited the state Capitol with Creatives for Virginia on Jan. 24 to lobby for the bill.

“I’m trying to let people know in our generation, these are the things that matter,” Oddo said. “If you don’t organize, if you don’t speak out in order to change these things, there’s not going to be the things you want to see done in our society and you’ll just constantly be in the state of reaction toward what’s going on.”

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.