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Columbus on commission: Proposed House bill to give artists an income tax break

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Chalk artist Adam Crum waits at his booth at the 2014 Columbus Arts Festival. Credit: Khalid Moalim / Asst. multimedia editor

A chalk artist sits in his booth at the 2014 Columbus Arts Festival.
Credit: Khalid Moalim / Asst. multimedia editor

Ohio artists could get an income tax credit on profits they make from selling artistic creations through a recently proposed measure.

The proposal, Ohio House bill 666, would only apply to art sales that occur in designated arts and entertainment districts, such as the Short North. It was introduced Nov. 12 by Ohio Democratic Reps. Michael Stinziano and Nickie Antonio, who think Ohio would reap economic benefits from the move.

“Movies are a form of art … be it the script, be it the act or the entire production,” Stinziano told The Lantern, referencing a tax credit that’s currently in place to incentivize film productions in Ohio. “So based on the rationale and support that that’s been so important in reinvesting in that community … it seems to be a natural next step to apply it to other forms of artistic outcomes or productions.”

Stinziano said he submitted the bill on behalf of a constituent’s request, and that a lot of his dialogue with colleagues at this point has been educational on how Ohio can follow the footsteps of states that have similar legislation, such as Maryland and Rhode Island.

Providence, R.I., is one city that has seen this type of legislation in action. Rhode Island passed a bill in 2013 that established that the sale of original, hand-crafted or limited-edition works of art are exempt, statewide, from state sales tax, said Randall Rosenbaum, executive director of Rhode Island’s State Council on the Arts.

“The law was created to provide an economic development tool to the state by using our vibrant arts community to attract increased visits and revenue,” Rosenbaum said. “According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the value of bringing people to our state who are interested in art and culture is that a cultural tourist tends to stay longer and spend more money when they travel to a location.”

Rosenbaum said the only concerns that were raised pertained to how much the state could lose in tax revenue, but the counterargument was that the law is an investment that will lead to increased revenue through visitors and sales. The artists who benefit from the legislation have to apply to receive the tax break.

“It’s a really good program in Rhode Island because it’s not only beneficial to the artists as they’re retaining income that they need to create more artwork, but it also encourages people to buy art,” said Maria DiFranco, graduate teaching associate in the Ohio State Department of Art who lived in Rhode Island for seven years before coming to Ohio. “And I think the Short North is another example of the way that art can bring a lot of life into Columbus. Arts can do so much more for the economy if we choose to invest in it.”

For comparison purposes, DiFranco noted that the NFL is considered a nonprofit organization and is therefore exempt from corporate federal taxes, and it serves a much larger market than the one discussed in Ohio’s proposed bill. Both DiFranco and Luke Ahern, a lecturer in the Department of Art, said that they wouldn’t currently be able to make a living solely from selling their art.

“The rut we’re running into I think the past couple of decades in our country is that there are lot of people who are just not pursuing it out of fear of not being able to find work,” Ahern said, noting that many students choose to minor instead of major in art for these reasons. Those fears are somewhat well-founded in Ohio, he said, adding that other places do a better job of maintaining a thriving arts community.

“I think a lot of Columbus artists are pursuing art outside of Columbus really significantly, just because there are different markets, different areas that are better suited to what we do,” he said.

Ahern noted how in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order that created the Works Progress Administration — which gave creative professionals such as artists, writers, actors and more federal stipends to create works.

“Part of that was just the idea that a developed culture that’s trying to push the boundaries and be successful always has art, music and theatre,” Ahern said. “These things are vital to culture regardless of how much money they make.”

Providence, R.I., was named the top city overall in a 2014 poll by Travel+Leisure. Rhode Island already had tax exemptions in place for theater works and concert tickets prior to its new law, whereas the Ohio bill would give tax breaks to works of fine art, literature, dance and theater, among others, according to its summary.

“In terms of us being an artists’ community, it draws our attention to our support of our artists, and wanting to encourage them to create more,” Stinziano said. “In Columbus, we have a large pocket (of artists), but across the state I think it would draw attention to our support of the desire to see the arts and artistic products flourish.”

However, there is still uncertainty over if and when the Ohio bill could become law, and Stinziano still hopes to get a Republican sponsor.

“Our timing has been tough,” he said. “Realistically, it won’t move this year, but (we) wanted to put the concept (out) and start seeing questions. Support’s been more educational at this point — trying to get colleagues to understand what other states do, what we can do. But, it’s got work ahead of it in order to actually become a law.”

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