Tax Exemptions For Art In Rhode Island NPR's Scott Simon asks Rhode Island author Paul Caranci about a provision in his state's tax code that exempts certain works of art from sales tax.

Tax Exemptions For Art In Rhode Island

Tax Exemptions For Art In Rhode Island

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NPR's Scott Simon asks Rhode Island author Paul Caranci about a provision in his state's tax code that exempts certain works of art from sales tax.


What is art? Well, the answer may be in Rhode Island's tax code. The state offers a sales tax exemption to resident writers, composers and artists who sell what they call original and creative works of art there. What is original and creative?

Paul Caranci is an author and Rhode Island resident. He joins us now from Providence in the studios of The Public's Radio, who used to call themselves Rhode Island Public Radio. Mr. Caranci, thanks so much for being with us.

PAUL CARANCI: It's my pleasure. Thank you for having me on.

SIMON: Now, you've written a number of nonfiction books set in Rhode Island. I'll mention just one title, "Monumental Providence." But I gather you don't qualify for this - for this tax cut.

CARANCI: Well, it's a strange enforcement of the law. You have to complete a form - a tax exemption form - that you send into division of taxation with the titles of the book that you want to have exempted. And they will review that book and determine whether or not it qualifies for the exemption. And the general rule here is that if it's a work of fiction in poetry, it will qualify for a tax exemption. If it is a work of nonfiction, then it will not.

SIMON: A poet gets a break on the sales tax on his or her book but not when they buy Cheerios.

CARANCI: (Laughter). That's correct. This was a bill that was intended by the assembly to promote the arts - the local arts - by local artists. By the way, this is a definition that was developed by the division of taxation that said we don't think an automotive manual, for example, should qualify for a tax break based on, you know, the fact that it's an automotive manual. It's not really an artistic work.

SIMON: It is on a case-by-case basis, though, right? So in theory, the committee - the state commission could say well, you know, "The Executioner's Song" by Norman Mailer is clearly a work of art even though it's nonfiction.

CARANCI: They could say that. Our experience locally is that they have not. But even if they did, making something subject to taxation based on a very subjective interpretation is highly unusual, I would say. And it's grossly unfair.

SIMON: You could have a writer like Joan Didion and/or Truman Capote, who have written both fiction and nonfiction. Some of their books, no sales tax. Some of their books, you'd have to pay sales tax.

CARANCI: Yeah, "In Cold Blood," for example, by Truman Capote.

SIMON: Yeah.

CARANCI: You mind if I read something to you?

SIMON: Go ahead, please.

CARANCI: OK. In 1775, John Adams was called to the Continental Congress by courier in the middle of a blizzard. That's history. But here's how David McCullough tells it in his award-winning nonfiction book "John Adams."

(Reading) In the cold, nearly colorless light of a New England winter, two men on horseback traveled the East Coast road below Boston, heading north. Nothing about the harsh landscape differed from other winters, nor was there anything to distinguish the two riders. It might have been any year, and it could have been anybody braving the weather for any number of reasons, dressed as they were in heavy cloaks, their hats pulled low against the wind.

Now, that says the same thing. It defines the same event. But the way he said it - that's art. I don't care that it's history. That is art. You feel like you're right there in the middle of the storm, travelling with him.

SIMON: When you say aht (ph) is that something that in the Midwest we'd call art?



CARANCI: I not only have a Rhode Island accent. I have a North Providence accent, which is even, you know, more difficult to understand. But thank you for pointing that out.

SIMON: Ah, no, it's great to hear. It's great to hear. Paul Caranci is also the author of "Scoundrels: Defining Corruption Through Tales Of Political Intrigue In Rhode Island." That sounds like an artful book. Thanks so much for being with us.

CARANCI: You're very welcome. Thanks so much for having me on.

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