OPINION: Misnamed 'arts tax' hides positive impact on community
In 2012 the residents of the city of Portland voted to support arts education in our schools and arts organizations in our community.
Called the Arts Education and Access Income Tax Fund, it was abbreviated the "arts tax." The emphasis on education and access was left out. Why do we need arts education in our schools? Because we need a well-rounded education, one that includes the "A" back in "STEM" to create STEAM ( science, technology, engineering, arts, math).
This measure funds one arts educator for every 500 students in six districts in the city of Portland. They include: Centennial, David Douglas, Parkrose, Portland, Reynolds and Riverdale. The $35 you pay every year also provides arts organizations and artists grants that are administered by the Regional Arts & Culture Council. This measure alone has employed, year after year, arts educators in our schools and has put back into our community millions of dollars.
It is not perfect, what is? But what I can attest to is the merits of the measure have been met year after year and our schools have benefited by having arts education programs. In our community. This translates to just under 100 arts educators throughout our six districts.
Hundreds of arts organizations and artists throughout the years from the Portland Art Museum to Morpheus Youth to Boom Arts to Milagre Theater to the Oregon Symphony to My Voice Music have received grants administered by RACC. Likely, as a Portlander, you have been a patron or have supported an artist who has been a recipient of an AEAF grant, over the years. Without your support we cannot close the equity gap in your neighborhood school and cultivate new artists in your backyard. We need your support. Our community needs your support.
As the chairwoman of the AEAF Oversight Committee, charged with overseeing the measure's outcomes and ensuring accountability to the taxpayer (you!) it has been my honor as an arts education advocate to be on this committee for five years and lead it for the past three years. This year, we now have 20 volunteer members from our community who have chosen to serve and are working to increase transparency, continued accountability and provide an annual report that shows current year data and information. We tend to want to know what is going on now, not last year. As we work towards this goal with the support of the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC), we are looking forward to increasing the visibility of the impacts this measure has had in our community.
One of our main goals since summer 2020 was to re-frame the language and to encourage our six school districts, the city and Portland residents to call this fund by its actual name rather than the "arts tax." The second step we took was to have a redesign of the logo through a student competition held in fall 2020 and launched in March 2021. The new logo, created by an elementary student who benefits from this funding, is now visible and will be placed on district and school websites that receive funds. The arts organizations who have grants administered through RACC have also been asked to include the logo on their websites so Portlanders can see their dollars at work. This improves the visibility of the measure and shows what this funding supports throughout our community.
Our third step involves you! Your stories of how the arts have impacted your lives. What do you remember about your childhood experience when you think of music? Visual arts? Theater and dance? What do the arts mean to you? Why does sharing our cultural experiences matter? Where have you gone to see art/culture in your community? We invite you to share your stories with us and RACC to amplify the impact of arts and culture in Portland. Tweet @R_A_C_C Instagram/Facebook @RegionalArts Please tag it #PDXaeaf #WhereArtThouPDX #ArtsEducationforAll #CreativeEconomy #ArtCreatesHope.
We are literally in this together. Thank you for supporting the AEAF. Your $35 is due April 15. This is not just an ask to pay, this is a reminder that the arts impact us 365 days a year.
Laura Streib is an arts education advocate and consultant. She serves as AEAF Oversight Committee chairwoman, and is a small business owner.
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