Arts Initiatives Win Big in the 2006 Vote

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The midterm elections appear to bear good news for artists. Eleven states passed ballot initiatives that sought to boost funding of the arts.


Democratic politicians weren't the only ones celebrating the election results this week. Arts groups around the country were also declaring victory. Eleven different ballot initiatives in support of public funding for the arts passed in California, Louisiana, Ohio, Oregon, Texas and Utah. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: The advocacy group Americans for the Arts reports that these ballot measures - 10 local and one statewide in Louisiana - will infuse millions of dollars into arts programs around the country. Many of the initiatives will support arts education, which has been subject to significant cuts in recent years. Others will help build or renovate cultural facilities.

In San Leandro, California, a $109 million bond issue will help create an arts education center. In Louisiana, artwork sold in the galleries within the state will no longer be subject to an inventory tax. And a tax on cigarettes - 30 cents a pack - will help fund arts and cultural groups in northeast Ohio.

Mr. PETER LAWSON JONES (Cuyahoga County Commissioner): We knew it was more palatable than a property tax or a sales tax or an income tax.

BLAIR: Peter Lawson Jones, commissioner for Cuyahoga County based in Cleveland, says the ballot measure passed with 56 percent of the vote. He says like all around the country, arts groups in northeast Ohio have been struggling to stay afloat. This is believed to be the only cigarette tax that directly funds arts and culture.

Mr. JONES: Well, I look at this as a win-win situation. If people continue to smoke, at least they'll be contributing to a good cause. But if they stop smoking, all the better.

BLAIR: That cigarette tax is expected to generate some $20 million annually. It's just one of 11 ballot measures supporting the arts, all of which passed. Nina Ozlu, executive director of Americans for the Arts Action Fund, says they allow the public to show where they'd like to spend their money.

Ms. NINA OZLU (Americans for the Arts Action Fund): What elected officials do once they get into office as legislators in determining how much of their treasury funds they want to use for funding the arts, they're making decisions to cut back, which is in opposition to what the general public wants. And so that's why you're seeing a success in these ballot measures. Because when you bypass the legislators and take it directly to the public, they're saying, yes, this is what we want.

BLAIR: In Austin, six different cultural groups backed a ballot measure that asked for $31.5 million to construct or renovate different facilities. It passed with 55 percent of the vote. The Zachary Scott Theatre, Austin Film Studios and a Mexican-American cultural center are among the groups that will receive money.

As one Austin arts administrator put it, normally they compete with each other for funds. But they also know there's a lot to be gained by coming together.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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