Make it Everyone’s Orchestra!

I excerpted the following from a letter posted on Symphony Strong by Tim Veach, Artistic Director Columbus Dance Theatre. He proposes the heretical idea of a culture tax for Columbus. When you think about the numbers: small tax of $50/year/household (which includes free concerts) produces a vibrant, thriving downtown which draws corporations to Columbus; everyone wins, even capitalists!

Culture is not a luxury. It is vital to the economic and creative health of a major urban economy. The failure of a community’s cultural institutions signals a regressive economic environment hostile to future growth and economic development. Vital economies are creative ones.

In response to this economic and cultural emergency I offer a proposal for Columbus.

The entire budget of the major (organizations with budgets exceeding 1 million dollars annually) arts organizations should be funded directly through a minimal tax, The Franklin County Culture Tax. Using U.S. Census Bureau statistics, if the adult population of Franklin County paid an average of $50 per year this would create an annual allocation of $38 million dollars for these major institutions.

What is the direct benefit to county residents? All performances and admissions would be free to Franklin county residents. This operational underpinning would then allow these cultural institutions to raise money for their endowments – something that has eluded all of the major organizations as they must spend the bulk of their contributed revenue on general operations.

Funds could be monitored through the Greater Columbus Arts Council who would use their current quality control measures to guarantee the judicious management of the public’s money.

A peripheral benefit of this program would be the freeing of significant funds at GCAC that currently go to the major institutions in the city. This money could then sustain the smaller cultural organizations and attractions in town also enabling them to offer their programming at no cost to county residents. Currently GCAC is funded by a portion of the Hotel/Motel tax. As of today, Franklin County residents are paying nothing to sustain their local arts organizations, unless, of course, you are living in a hotel.

This creative solution to our current arts funding dilemma will undoubtedly be met by an onslaught of naysayers. That is the nature of democracy. We debate and work together on creative solutions to better our communities. This will take work. Creation is hard. Destruction is easy. Let us not take the easy path.

I call upon Mayor Coleman and the members of City Council to offer temporary assistance from the city to guarantee the immediate survival of the CSO – an organization whose presence brings cultural and economic gravitas to the heart of our city. I then offer a plea to our elected leaders to consider this proposal or soon we could be a city without a voice.

Tim Veach Artistic Director Columbus Dance Theatre

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