Raise the Arts Tax
The City of Portland has figured out a creative way to support the arts. The new arts tax increment financing (TIF) is the first of its kind in the country. It recognizes that as artists make a place more attractive, they threaten their own sustainability. So now, when developers make improvements through renovation or construction in the Arts District, an increase in property value means giving back. A portion of the increased taxes will go to support those same individuals and organizations that played a critical role in making the area attractive to begin with and whose ongoing presence contributes to the vitality of the area.
In 2006, Americans for the Arts found that the direct economic impact of spending by nonprofit arts and cultural audiences in Portland was $15.4 million – about five times larger than in regions of similar size. We’re small and mighty.
This new TIF has generated approximately $50,000 to date, mostly coming from the sale and renovation of the University of Southern Maine dorm on Congress Street. Of that money, $30,000 has been designated to support the newly formed Creative Portland Corporation. The city approved these funds this week and now the Corporation begins their work to raise matching funds, recruit board members, set priorities and create a work plan. Each year, they will need to request the release of these funds from the council. The goal is $30,000 initially and growing to $100,000 annually for ten years. If achieved, it would be the City’s largest investment in the arts to date.
In the spirit of learning more about the history and future of the creative economy in Maine, the Portland Arts and Cultural Alliance hosted a forum to provide background on work done to date and plans moving ahead. Panelists included former president of Maine College of Art Roger Gilmore, Muskie School alumnus Jennifer Hutchins, Portland Public Art Committee Chair Alice Spencer, Portland Music Foundation founder Adam Ayan, Maine Arts Commission Director Donna McNeil and Portland Downtown District Executive Director Jan Beitzer. Hearing the stories of their collective advocacy, education and support over the years painted a picture of how we got to where we are today.
Which led to the conversation of the future, lead by Portland City Councilor Dave Marshall and Portland Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell. The goal of the Creative Portland Corporation is to serve as the clearinghouse for the arts sector which will help increase collaboration, coordination and growth in the creative economy. I’m curious to see how it will evolve. It has interesting potential to move Portland from a vibrant arts community to an arts powerhouse.