2007-05-17 / Front Page

Island arts district proposed

By Donna K. Drago

Local artists applauded the efforts of the Town Council at their Monday night meeting, when they gave a consensus that they would like to establish an arts district in Jamestown.

State Rep. Bruce Long told the council that many neighboring towns were looking into the ramifications of allowing artists to sell their wares tax free in these arts districts. "Newport already has one, Wickford's looking," Long said, adding, "it will create parity in Jamestown."

Long cautioned that the state's finance chairman is already saying that too many of these districts are causing a loss of tax revenue for the state, so he suggested that the council make their decision sooner rather than later, "when the door slams shut."

In order to have an arts district, the town must ask its legislators to pass enabling legislation that would allow the town to create such a place. Once the legislation passes, the town then can develop an ordinance that would spell out how and where the artists would benefit from the tax breaks.

There was some confusion about how the arts district works.

Councilman Michael Schnack asked if the district meant that any artist can make items to "sell out of their garage?"

Randall Rosenbaum, director of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, was in the audience to offer guidance on how the districts operate.

Rosenbaum said that the district can be limited geographically or by zoning laws. If the town won't let artists sell their wares tax free from their homes, then a co-op gallery can be established where artists can make retail sales, he suggested.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser was concerned that establishment of an arts district could have an impact on the zoning appeal of David and Jennifer Clancy, glassblowers on North Main Road, who were told some time ago that they could not sell items out of their studio.

Nearly a dozen artists were in the audience hoping to speak in support of the arts district. Allie Sabalis, a past-president of the Conanicut Island Art Association said she initiated the conversation about an arts district that would benefit artists and allow them to keep more of the money they earn for their creations. An arts district would "help artists live, work and contribute," to the town. She cited an "unusually high concentration," of artists of all types in Jamestown, and showed a map, riddled with red dots, each showing the location of the home of an island artist. "There are 172 that we know of," Sabalis said. She asked the council to help artists be more financially successful and, in some cases, help supplement retirement incomes.

Kevin Somerville, an artist who recently moved from Jamestown, read statements from two island retail shops that support an arts district. Both Jamestown Designs and R&R Gallery were in favor of the designation.

In order to get legislation passed this year, Rep. Long said he would have to see a model bill this month. He added that the legislative session would be wrapped up "by Father's Day."

Council President David Long said it was clear that the council, by consensus, was generally in favor of the arts district concept, and asked Town Solicitor Peter Ruggeiro to draft the legislation, with the assistance of Rosenbaum. The plan, Long said, was to have it ready to be voted on at the May 21 meeting of the Board of Water and Sewer Commissioners.

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