Rhode Island for Tax Free Art

Rhode Island is host to a wealth of arts and culture.  In 2012, Travel + Leisure's America's Favorite Cities Survey named Providence #15 overall in the country for Culture.  ArtPlace ranked Providence among 33 top art cities across the nation as part of their "America's Top ArtPlaces 2013".  With one of the best art schools, Rhode Island School of Design, and big cultural events such as WaterFire, it is no surprise that Rhode Island Legislation made the move to become the first state to offer Tax Free Art.  

In 1998, tax incentives for artists were passed and applied to specific "districts" which now include nine RI communities:  Providence, Pawtucket, Westerly, Woonsocket, Tiverton, Little Compton, Newport, Warwick and Warren.  As the General Assembly stated, this move "would promote economic development, revitalization, tourism, employment opportunities, and encourage business development by providing alternative commercial enterprises," (§ 44-18-30.B). Since these laws have been put into place, Cultural District Programs have been implemented in other states such as Maryland (2001), Texas (2005), Iowa (2005), Louisiana (2007),  New Mexico (2007), and Indiana (2008).  Even China is thinking of a tax free art program in Beijing according to The Wall Street Journal.

While the details of individual state Art District programs may vary, the overall goals align with economic development.  Rhode Island's program gives incentives for living and working in designated districts, removing the 7% sales tax on original works of art.  Tax incentives are great for the little guy but do the programs generate any return?  The Arts and Economic Prosperity III report in 2007 by Americans for the Arts provided major evidence about the arts and its direct economic impact on the City of Providence.  This nationwide study found that nonprofit arts and culture organizations in Providence generate $111.81 million in local economic activity, support 2,759 full time equivalent jobs, $55.56 million in household income for local residents, and $11.08 million in government revenue.  With some incredible numbers, Providence outranked National Medians in many areas.  The New England Foundation for the Arts Creative Economy Report in 2011 confirmed this impact with similar findings, stating that overall, Rhode Island nonprofit arts and cultural enterprises' total economic impact in 2009 "was $673 million, supporting over 7,688 jobs in Rhode Island businesses."  Every $1 spent became $2.10 in sales for RI businesses, and "every job by a Rhode Island nonprofit arts and cultural organization became 1.5 jobs for workers across the state."

Now, that's just the nonprofit sector of the Rhode Island arts industry.  There is so much more such as artists, studios, art workshops, and galleries which make up the rest of the industry.  A Focus Group conducted by the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts in 2008 convened to asses the state of the arts in RI and found that "the creative sector is significant, has been growing faster than other sectors, has revitalized communities and old mills, and has potential for even greater economic impact."

Yet despite all this great opportunity Rhode Island holds for the arts and a growing creative sector, CNBC ranked Rhode Island LAST out of all 50 states on appeal for starting and growing a business in their 2012 Top States for Business Report.  With poor infrastructure and a high cost of doing business, it can be difficult to get business going, especially for the "starving artist".

So far, our Rhode Island Tax Free Art incentives only cover 9 districts out of the total 39 RI municipalities.  Why apply such a great pice of legislation to just a few areas around the state?  We have seen evidence of great economic impacts from the nonprofit sector of the fast growing arts industry.  Not to mention that RISCA 2008 Focus Group mentioned "Now is the time to capitalize on this."

So here's the grand idea spurred on by people such as Rep. Donna Walsh of District 36 and concerned citizen Ellen Waxman of Wickford:  Make ALL of Rhode Island Tax Free for Art!

It makes sense, doesn't it?  Expand an existing piece of legislature to cover an entire state in desperate need of boosting it's business growth appeal.  Utilize a growing arts industry that has already displayed huge economic impact.  Create jobs, opportunities for small business, revenue and tourism for the state, draw art buyers, not to mention put money in the pockets of artists to alleviate the high cost of doing business and high cost of living in Rhode Island (ranked 44th out of 50 according to CNBC).

Why hasn't this change happened sooner?  We were the first state to implement Art Districts, and we have the opportunity to capitalize on being the first "State of the Arts".  We have a hub of arts and culture, and can increase it's appeal even further through a small change in legislation.

This tax free arts district expansion has been proposed as part of a number of policy suggestions after the Moving the Needle Report was released by the RI Senate Policy Office and RI Public Expenditure Council in January 2013.  Little Rhody needs to boost it's business climate and this is one way to do it.

To help realize this change, Ellen Waxman has started Rhode Island Art Spark.  First campaigning to add Wickford to the list of Art Districts, Art Spark has now grown into a campaign to turn Rhode Island into a true "State of the Arts".  You can sign the online petition here or help by calling your district representative in support of Rep. Donna Walsh's proposed 2013-H 5844 legislation.

As an artist in the state of Rhode Island, I fully support this initiative and hope you will join me!

For more information and to follow what's happening with this legislation visit:

To look at the arts legislation and to contact your representatives in support:

House Bill 2013 H-5844
Introduced by: Representatives Walsh, Cimini, Lally, Tomasso, and Ferri

Senate Bill 2013 S-743
Introduced by: Senators Paiva-Weed, Sheehan, Goodwin, Ruggerio, and Cool Rumsey

Contact your local Representatives and ask them to please support House bill 2013 H-5844
List of Representatives by district:

Contact your local Senators and ask them to please support Senate bill 2013 S-743
List of Senators by district:

In addition to contacting your local Senators and Representatives, please write to:

Email the Providence Journal letters to the editor here:

Governor Lincoln Chafee
Please Support House bill 2013 H-5844 and Senate bill 2013 S-743

Speaker of the House Gordon Fox
Please Support House bill 2013 H-5844

House Finance Committee Chair Representative Helio Melo
Please Support House bill 2013 H-5844

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