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The Gazette talks to Cynthia Kirk, communications manager for the Oregon Cultural Trust
by: Kelly Moyer, ARTS ADVOCATE — Cynthia Kirk stands outside Let’s Make Music in Old Town Sherwood, where she takes piano lessons, on April 1. Kirk, the communications manager for the Oregon Cultural Trust moved to Sherwood from New York City several years ago and spends her days working as an advocate for the state’s unique arts and culture funding mechanism.

Imagine asking a New Yorker what she likes best about living in Sherwood.

You expect to hear about the beauty, the nature, maybe even something about the refreshing small town atmosphere. What you don't bargain for is exactly what Cynthia Kirk, the communications director of the Oregon Cultural Trust, says: the public transportation.

The what, now?

'Yes, the public transportation. It's so easy to get to downtown Portland from here,' Kirk says. 'And I don't like to drive.'

Coming from a woman who's so smitten with public transportation that she once traveled from Boston to her home near Sherwood High School entirely by bus, train, airplane and light rail, this is a pretty big statement about Sherwood's transportation system.

When she was a freelance communications consultant for Portland based arts groups like Portland Center Stage, Kirk caught the bus into Portland almost every day.

Nowadays, she catches a ride to Wilsonville with her partner, Jim Leisy, and then takes public transportation to Salem, where she's in charge of publicizing the financial and emotional benefits of the Oregon Cultural Trust, our state's unique funding source for major arts groups like the Oregon Ballet Theater as well as minor organizations like the Friends of Historic Forest Grove.

The Cultural Trust fits with Oregonians' DIY attitudes, Kirk says.

'Oregonians are very independent,' she says. 'They have a 'do it yourself' mentality and the Oregon Cultural Trust reflects that. No other state in the nation has something like this. It is very unique.'

Other states have similar programs to fund cultural programs through donations, of course, but the Oregon Cultural Trust offers taxpayers a tax credit for their contribution - and, unlike a tax rebate, which lowers the overall amount of taxable income, a tax credit actually cuts money off the total taxes owed, which means more money for you and more money for the cultural programs you support.

The way it works is like this: say you want to donate $100 to the Friends of the Sherwood Library. You can make a matching donation to the Oregon Cultural Trust for a tax credit and get the full $100 taken off the amount of taxes owed. If you owed $2,000 in state taxes, you would now owe $1,900. There is no minimum or maximum that may be donated to the Oregon Cultural Trust, but there is a maximum tax credit of $500 per individual and $1,000 for a couple filing jointly.

The donations, along with Oregon Cultural Trust license plate sales help fund arts programs throughout the state of Oregon. Each year, the trust gives money to the individual county and tribal cultural coalitions for local programs; and also awards grants to dozens of statewide cultural arts organizations.

In recent years, those grants have funded things like the Northwest Film Center's 'Animated Worlds' exhibition; artist in residence programs at Tryon Creek State Park; the creation of a Tualatin Heritage Center inside the Tualatin Historical Society's historic 1880s home; and an interactive exhibit for children on Ukranian geography and culture at the A.C. Gilbert's Discovery Village in Salem.

When Kirk first moved to Oregon, she was astounded by how little the state contributed to its cultural arts programs.

'I think we were 51st in funding the arts,' Kirk says. 'Now we're 47th or 48th.'

Part of the Oregon Cultural Trust's mission is to bring the arts to everyone in Oregon, which means that Kirk is getting very familiar with programs in Eugene, eastern Oregon, the coast and southern parts of the state.

One of her favorite cultural arts organizations is the Eugene Ballet, which used its 2006 grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust to take a production of "The Swing Kings" on tour throughout the state to promote the dance and music of the swing era.

Asked if she had any culture shock moving from New York City to Sherwood, Kirk emphatically shakes her head 'no.'

'No culture shock,' she says. 'I've found plenty to do. And it's been an honor and a pleasure getting to know the people in Oregon's cultural arts community.'