In its ongoing search for a real solution to arts and culture funding in the Charlotte region, the Cultural Life Task Force learned Monday about one specific revenue type: dedicated taxes.
Since its first meeting in June, the 22-member group has worked to explore all possible sources of sustainable funding for Charlotte’s culture sector. On Monday afternoon they heard from Randy Cohen with Americans for the Arts.
Cohen is the vice president of research and policy at the national nonprofit, which has had a primary focus of advancing arts across the country for the past 50 years.
During his presentation, Cohen discussed national trends in cultural philanthropy and other dedicated revenue models that other cities have had success with.
Cohen showed task force members a New York Times article from 1952 about the challenges of funding music, and said “it’s not exactly a new” problem.
He presented a pie chart that broke down sources of revenue for cultural nonprofits and said there’s a generalized pattern: 60 percent comes from earned income, 30 percent from individuals, foundations and corporations, and 10 percent from local, state and federal government.
A number of local tax options exist, Cohen said, whether voter-approved or decided by the local governing body.
“There are really fascinating ways arts and culture are being supported across the county,” Cohen said, noting the most commonly seen is the hotel-motel tax, which Mecklenburg County currently has in place.
San Francisco has used the model to fund arts for 50 years, Cohen said, but warned it’s susceptible to the economy. San Jose, Calif., at one point received $17 million from the tax, but when the economy turned, it dropped to $11 million, he said.
Another option for funding is a property tax increase, which can be a challenge “because it’s a lot of burden on the locals,” Cohen said.
“How can we be sure we spread the love?” he asked, noting Detroit and Denver are just two examples of multi-county regions that opted for a higher sales tax to help fund their culture sectors. Basic needs such as groceries and diapers can be exempted from sales tax models, Cohen said, adding that voter-approved tax hikes often have sunset clauses.
Other localized taxes that have worked include food and beverage taxes; gambling taxes (Deadwood, S.D.); cigarette taxes (Cleveland, Ohio); third-party sign or “billboard” taxes (Toronto) and taxes on admission to events such as movies or sporting events (Seattle and Chicago), Cohen said.
Task force members reiterated a desire to continue exploring other monetary avenues outside taxation and government funding as they consider best practices. The group will continue to meet at least monthly and will present findings and recommendations in early 2014.
Trenda: 704-358-5089; Twitter: @htrenda
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