Cities bowing to the public for arts funds

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

An increasing number of cities are finding it politically and economically easier to let citizens and tourists fund cultural services. With financially strapped municipalities unable to increase their support of the arts, alternatives to customary arts funding have been springing up around the United States. These include hotel/motel taxes, portions of liquor, racetrack, and lottery revenues, tie-ins with zoning, and other measures.

Because they exist outside the ``general revenue'' route, alternatively funded arts agencies have been able to grow and develop relatively free of politics, too.

One of the most common alternatives is a hotel/motel occupancy tax.

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``San Francisco draws a lot of tourists, because of its livability and cultural activity, and the arts are very much a part of that,'' says Kary Schulman, administrative director of that city's Hotel and Motel Tax Fund, which has a 1986 budget of $40 million based on a 9.7 percent occupancy tax.

In 1961, San Francisco was the first city to use this means of support. Now it is found in Sacramento; Eugene, Ore.; Columbus, Ohio; Albuquerque, N.M.; Dade County, Fla., and throughout Texas and Washington.

Texas has an 11 percent tax on hotel and motel occupancy, of which the state receives half and the municipality half. At present, 46 cities and towns throughout Texas have taken advantage of this, with Houston benefiting the most. Of the 11 cents per dollar tax, one cent goes to the arts.

Flora Maria Garcia, program coordinator for the Cultural Arts Council of Houston, notes that her agency received $1.4 million from the tax in 1978, $3.3 million in 1982, and is projecting $2.8 million for this year.

``It works hand in hand here,'' she states. ``The more people who come here to enjoy the arts, the more money there is for the arts and the better they become.''

She adds that getting all the arts council's money from the hotel/motel tax has its positive and negative aspects. On the good side: ``You don't have to go back to the city every year'' to ask for more money. The bad part: ``It's hard to plan ahead.'' The depression in the oil industry may make this year's budget overly optimistic.

A variety of other ways of funding arts organizations and activities have been developed over the past 10 years. Massachusetts, for instance, created an ``arts lottery'' six years ago, with proceeds going to local arts agencies on the basis of population and need. A portion of the property tax levy in St. Louis and Chicago goes to major cultural institutions.

In Cincinnati, employees at 68 companies have established payroll deductions for money to fund arts institutions; Last year, $516,600 was raised. About 320 companies in Cincinnati also solicited contributions from their employees for the arts, raising almost $1.2 million.

Nineteen states have adopted ``Percent for Art'' legislation, which mandates that either 1 or one-half of 1 percent of construction or renovation costs of public buildings go to the creation or purchase of art for the site.

In addition, ``Percent for Art'' laws have been enacted in five counties and more than 20 cities around the country, including Baltimore, Boston, San Francisco, and Anchorage, Alaska. In Cambridge, Mass., and Seattle, the money may also go to arts agencies for general use.

Public arts agencies were bypassed in Hartford, Conn., where, in 1971, a group of the largest corporations in the city set up its own arts agency. It has acted in the same way a public agency might.

The Greater Hartford Arts Council has a budget of $1.4 million for 1986 based on cash donations from 1,554 corporations in the Greater Hartford area. The council has a staff of five that reviews grant applications. Fund raising is done by volunteers -- mostly middle-management executives in area companies.

Jean Burnett, community affairs director of the arts council, says the City of Hartford ``never had the interest or the money to do what we are doing. The entire budget for the Connecticut Arts Commission, which has to cover the entire state, is not that much more than what we've raised just for Hartford.''

New York City has made its own effort to get corporations to assist the arts, but in a very different manner. Zoning variances -- such as allowing a building to be taller than zoning laws permit -- have been negotiated with developers in exchange for public areas that have occasionally been used as art galleries.

The city established regulations in 1982 requiring that, for every 600 square feet in zoning variance permitted, the developer had to provide 100 square feet in ``public amenities.'' This could mean a place for passers-by to sit, or even a museum branch, as at the new Philip Morris Building with its Whitney branch.

Bethesda, Md.; Portland, Ore.; Denver; San Francisco; and Seattle also require public amenities with new buildings, but only in New York have the arts received any of the benefits.

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