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Arts feed our souls... and our economy

Oregon’s culture — and not coincidentally, its economy — can take additional strides forward if the state’s legislators and residents act upon two separate opportunities in coming weeks.

The most immediate of these opportunities arrives with the end of the year and the chance for taxpayers to make a donation to the Oregon Cultural Trust — a gift that will cost the contributor essentially nothing.

The second opportunity involves legislative reauthorization of the cultural trust tax credit. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.

But first, we urge Oregonians to consider the benefits of making a gift to the cultural trust prior to Dec. 31 so that they can get that money back when they file their 2012 tax returns. Under the program created by the Legislature a decade ago, people who support arts and culture can give up to $500 to the trust, and then receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit.

 

Support a local group

Before making a donation to the trust, however, people must first contribute to one of more than 1,300 cultural nonprofits in Oregon. The list of eligible organizations includes more than a dozen groups in western Washingon County, from Theatre in the Grove and the Forest Grove Library Foundatoin to the Friends of the Banks-Vernonia Trail and Centro Cultural.

If, for example, someone makes a donation to the Friends of the Cornelius Library, the Valley Art Association or Friends of Historic Forest Grove, he or she then can donate the same amount to the Oregon Cultural Trust and get the tax credit. (To give online or check a list of qualifying organizations, go to culturaltrust.org.) The money collected by the trust is then reinvested in cultural groups and activities throughout the state.

 

Legislature should renew program

This latter activity — the awarding of grants — brings us back to the second opportunity mentioned above. This one awaits the Oregon Legislature’s regular session in January, when lawmakers will consider whether to continue several tax-credit programs.

We applaud lawmakers for taking a hard look at tax credits, some of which are of dubious value.

But the case for renewing the cultural trust tax credit is a strong one. In its first decade, the trust already has distributed more than $12.5 million to hundreds of cultural groups in Oregon.

This investment in cultural activities can be transforming. That's apparent in western Washington County, where public art is changing the face of our downtowns, city libraries are evolving into information centers and community theater and visual art is thriving. The pages of the News-Times and the quarterly Washington County Arts Guide we produce are testaments to the creativity that flows through our community.

These trust grants are valuable beyond their beneficial effect on arts and culture. They also stimulate economic activity. Arts and culture groups employ people. They engage the services of suppliers and other businesses. And they bring visitors to communities who in turn spend money at shops and restaurants.

One recent study documented that Oregon’s culture economy is tied to 19,000 jobs. These are jobs that cannot be outsourced — they stay in Oregon.

The cultural trust is designed in such a way that each dollar raised is multiplied many times over. Grants must be matched, and they attract additional funding from out-of-state foundations. In an era when public schools have cut back considerably on arts programs, the Oregon Cultural Trust is playing a key role in bringing cultural literacy to our children.

For a very small amount of foregone tax revenue — an estimated $9 million out of a $16.5 billion biennial budget — the cultural trust will have an outsized, but positive, effect on the Oregon economy and its population.

Legislators should vote next year to continue this uniquely Oregon method of cultivating both culture and the economy. 




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