TACOMA CREATES: Arts funding would get boost from new tax if city voters approve measure

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The campaign to sway voters into increasing the sales tax to support arts programs around Tacoma formally kicks off with gusto at 6 p.m. on Sept. 20 at Epworth Lesourd United Methodist Church in Tacoma, 710 S. Anderson St. Expect information booths and brochures throughout October, which is Arts Month, conveniently enough.

Voters will decide on Nov. 6 on a Tacoma Creates plan, formally known as Proposition 1, what would increase the sales tax collected in the city by .01 percent. The increase would put Tacoma’s sales tax at 10.2 percent, on par with Seattle and among the highest in the state. The added tax would cost the average household about $13 a year and raise an estimated $5 million for arts funding each year. The proposition would sunset after seven years, although it could be renewed with another public vote. The proposition comes after state lawmakers approved options for cities to increase arts funding at a time when Washington ranks 46th in the nation for publicly funded arts programs.

“We in Tacoma got to build something very Tacoma specific,” campaign organizer Courtenay Chamberlin said.

The money would be used to foster arts, heritage, science and culture resources to every neighborhood around the city by funding enrichment programs at youth centers and senior centers, after-school programs and weekend projects, especially for lower-income families and students. About half of the money would target arts programs in neighborhoods. Not to be lost alongside the cultural enhancements themselves, the new tax would provide a boost to the local economy. Arts and culture endeavors in the city generate $137 million a year in total economic activity. Those community theater groups, museums and galleries support 3,600 jobs and generate $86 million in household income. Adding $5 million to the pool of arts funding would certainly add to that final tally of local payroll and economic impact, particularly with partners sharing costs of arts programs as a way to control costs and eliminate redundancies.

“We don’t really have a measure on what that would be,” Chamberlin said.

The spending of this new arts tax money would be determined by a grant process for cultural nonprofits that would be overseen by an independent advisory board that is empaneled by the City Council, much like the Arts Commission oversees the city’s arts fund of $400,000 that also incudes $500,000 of state funding and $750,000 from the National Endowment of the Arts through Tacoma’s Office of Arts & Cultural Vitality. Tacoma-based arts or cultural non-profits can apply for program and project funds up to $50,000 but most have a two-year record of financial operations and can’t have more than 8 percent of the grant money spent for administrative costs of the activity and no more than 15 percent of the nonprofit’s annual budget.

More information about Proposition 1 can be found at tacomacreates.com.

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