Pending legislation could help island artists flourish even more
A resolution proposed by Sen. President Teresa Paiva Weed that will have a significant impact on many Jamestowners has received Senate approval and is awaiting action from the House. The resolution calls for the creation of a strategic planning task force that Paiva Weed calls State of the Arts.
The resolution is one of the results of a Rhode Island arts charrette that was hosted by Gov. Lincoln Chafee in February.
“The most important aspect of this is the job growth in creative industries has been one of the most significant areas of job growth in the last two years in Rhode Island,” said Paiva Weed. “It’s really been one of the bright spots.”
Paiva Weed, whose district includes Jamestown, said that the arts have to be recognized as a critical part of economic development. As an example of a state that is doing strategic planning in regard to the arts, she cited Florida as such a place.
Jamestown printmaker Peter Marcus recently won two awards, including best in show, at the annual juried exhibition at the Newport Art Museum. Marcus expressed appreciation for the new proposal.
“Anything that helps the artist and the arts in the state is a good thing,” Marcus said. “It is known that when artists move into an area, that area prospers.”
One of the resolution’s co-sponsors in the House, along with Speaker Gordon Fox, is Deb Ruggiero. Ruggiero, who represents and lives in Jamestown, is in her third term.
“It’s the House and Senate both trying to make sure that everyone understands the importance of nonprofit arts organizations in our state,” she said.
According to Ruggiero, the volunteer task force will be charged with looking at ways to increase the awareness and visibility of the arts in the state. It will also work to ensure the future growth of the arts and identify funding.
“We have to remember that the arts are an important economic sector in our state,” Ruggiero said. “It’s a $673 million industry to the state. When you factor in all of the ancillaries, it’s over 700,000 people in Rhode Island who are employed. So they really contribute to the economic engine of our state.”
Ruggiero said when people are looking to relocate, a vibrant arts community is often second only to a good education in terms of influential factors. People and companies want to be in a state with a thriving cultural environment, she says.
“That’s the purpose of the resolution,”
Ruggiero said. “I look forward to seeing what the task force does. If I’m asked to serve, I will.”
Jillian Barber is an award-winning sculptor and photographer from Jamestown. She is a member of 10 different art groups, so she sees the statewide growth firsthand.
“I love the name of it,” Barber said. “State of the Arts. It would be wonderful if Rhode Island were known as that. There seems to be a resurgence going on in terms of the number of arts organizations. There seem to be more little galleries popping up, too.”
If created, a report by the task force will be due in March 2014. Since it will be an all-volunteer panel, there will be no budgetary impact as a result of its creation.
Paiva Weed is also sponsoring an economic-development bill in the Senate that is intended to provide a positive impact on the arts community. The bill would establish a statewide arts district and provide a sales-tax exemption on local works of artistic creation. A number of cities and towns already exempt locally created art from sales tax, although Jamestown does not. The bill is intended to level the playing field in that regard.
“One of the things that I have noticed is that the arts districts have been growing in recent years,” Paiva Weed said. “There are arts districts in Newport, Westerly, Pawtucket, Providence and several other cities and towns. In recent years we’ve had more and more communities coming to the General Assembly and asking for arts districts.”
Paiva Weed said that while a true arts district would not only exempt sales taxes but also income taxes on artists, that would be cost prohibitive for the state. As an alternative she took the approach of exempting sales tax statewide.
“My thought is that it would be another potential way to attract young, creative people to our state, and also it could become an integral part of our marketing for tourism,” Paiva Weed said.
The Senate president stressed the fact that a lot of art being sold in Rhode Island is already exempt from sales tax. As a result, the revenue impact from the proposed legislation would not be too damaging.
Ernie Savastano, a Jamestown artist and former president of the Conanicut Island Art Association, says that while the proposed bill is great news, it should be taken with a grain of salt since it is not law yet.
“It would be a great thing for the state though,” he said. “It would put us on a parity with all of the other communities out there. We fight for parity with Newport, which has a large tax-free zone. We don’t.”