Oregon Cultural Trust

Love and taxes: Solving the contradiction

How to support the arts and thumb your nose at the new tax bill

Today’s subject is the contradiction between Oregon’s obvious love for the arts, and our tepid support for them at the state level. Well, actually the subject is how you and I, dear reader, can help solve that contradiction.

It’s especially important this year, given the tax bill that was signed into law last week. That bill will eventually double the standard deduction that most Americans take, and that will make it less likely that we will itemize. You know where I’m going with this: Unless you itemize, you don’t have the tax incentive to give to charities. And the only taxpayers who will now itemize, especially now that the deduction for state income taxes and property taxes have been limited, are very high-income earners. “The biggest change is expected to be among households earning $75,000 to $200,000 a year — a bracket in which more than half of filers itemized their taxes under the old code,” according to a Washington Post analysis.

The bottom line: If you itemize now, but probably won’t itemize in 2018, then this is the last year to take a charitable deduction of any kind. You can keep giving—no one expects private philanthropy to dry up completely—but your tax incentive will disappear. And an Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy study, cited by the Post, is predicting a 4.5 percent drop in giving in 2018, which would be about $13 billion.

Albert Robida, “A night at the opera in the year 2000,” cartoon, 1882

Most arts organizations in Oregon are nonprofits, and they depend on philanthropy for their existence (either direct giving or through foundations), along with ticket sales and government support. This solution to the problem of supporting the arts starts with the Oregon Cultural Trust, and then, for this year at least, involves a change in giving patterns by individuals. Stick with me: We can do this!


Just for an update, the glorious State of Oregon ranks 35th in funding for the arts through its arts agencies, the Oregon Arts Commission and the Oregon Cultural Trust. That’s a little weird. The state always ranks near the very top in attendance at its arts events. You would think, all things being equal, that we’d be happier to support the arts than most other places.

That’s not the case. I’m going to focus on the states that start with the letter O for a moment, a universe of three states. According to the complex calculations of the National Association of State Arts Agencies, Oregon state government spends a grand total of 84 cents per state resident on the arts. Let that sink in a moment. Eighty-four cents. A grand total of $3,422,588.

Now, I hear people complain about government support for the arts a lot, but complaining about 84 cents is complaining about nickels and dimes. Actual nickels and dimes. And pennies. Even if you’re ideologically opposed to giving to the arts (and I’m sure those folks have clicked away from this story already), there are much bigger targets around for your slings and arrows. (For the record, I think the same thing about people who complain about the arts tax in Portland. That $35 is going directly toward something we actually voted for—arts education at the primary school level and support for our non-profit arts organizations. But that’s another story.)

Back to the O states. The other two are Ohio and Oklahoma. Ohio is a much bigger state, and during the 20th century, it was one of the nation’s richest, home to very large national corporations, from Procter & Gamble and Kroger in Cincinnati to Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Akron. It’s still an industrial center of major national importance, but its per capita income has slipped below Oregon’s. We’re 26th nationally, at $54,148 per household. They are 34th, at $51,075. Still, they are ahead of us in state funding for the arts: They spend $1.39 per capita, and a total of $16,173,750.

Oklahoma is more our size, and for much of its history, its wealth was built on an extractive industry, just like ours—oil in their case, timber in ours. The average household income in Oklahoma is $48,568, which ranks 39th nationally. So, they give less of their state budget to the arts than we do, surely? Uh, no. It’s close, but they contribute 99 cents per capita to their state arts agencies, which ranks 26th nationally. Among the O states, Oregon is last.

Some might say this is a brilliant economy of resources— we invest little and get a lot. Unfortunately for us, among the O states Oregon is most dependent on its creative economy—the design, tech, new knowledge companies that drive our economy now. And the arts are crucial for attracting the talent that sharpens the edge of those companies and for keeping them engaged with their creative side when they get here. We can’t afford to be pennywise and pound foolish.


Fortunately, the Oregon Cultural Trust allows us to rectify an ongoing error of the state legislature—in this case its reluctance to fund the arts sufficiently. The beauty of it is, it doesn’t cost us any money. And though it’s been around for awhile now, many of us don’t take advantage of its unique provisions. Many do: Oregonians invested more than $4.55 million in the Oregon Cultural Trust in 2016, after all. For good reason: It distributes money to every corner of the state, and funds tribal and historical organizations as well. So, if you’re taking advantage already, this is just a refresher.

The process isn’t hard, but it does involve a few steps. And the subject of taxes makes my head swim, my eyes blurry and my knees weak. That’s why I’m sure that if I can do it, so can you.

  1. It starts with a gift to one or more of the 1,400 or so arts and cultural groups in the state. You can find the list of qualifying groups on the Trust’s website, though nearly anyone you can think of qualifies.
  2. Make a matching gift to the Cultural Trust. You can do it online. You will be provided with a confirmation screen you can print for your records to claim your tax credit. Or you can donate by telephone (503-986-0088).
  3. Claim your entire contribution to the Trust as a tax credit on your Oregon income tax—up to $500 for an individual, $1,000 for couples filing jointly, and $2,500 for corporations. Much of that money will be distributed to Oregon arts groups directly, and some will go to the Trust’s permanent fund.

Let’s compress that: You gift your favorite arts group(s), you give to the Cultural Trust, you take a tax credit for the gift to the Trust (and to the arts groups), you enjoy great art the rest of the year.

Not so hard, is it? Ohio and Oklahoma, we’re coming for you!


OK, one more idea. Take a look at Step One: The original gifts to arts organizations. Although the limit on the Oregon Cultural Trust tax credit is $500 for individuals and $1,000 for couples filing jointly, you can still take the federal income tax deduction on any larger amount. At least you can take it THIS year, if you itemize. But let’s imagine next year. It’s entirely possible that you won’t be itemizing on your 2018 tax return, which means you won’t get a deduction for your charitable contributions (to arts groups or anyone else). Bummer.

That’s why it’s a good idea to give the money you WOULD have given in 2018 now, in 2017, so you can take the tax deduction now. Instead of giving Oregon ArtsWatch $100 this year—just an example!—you could give us $200, and take the full tax deduction this year. We would be much obliged to help in this way. And it would work the same way for any charitable contribution: This is the year to double up and guarantee that you get the deduction.


So, right, this column is self-serving. Oregon ArtsWatch is one of the organizations on the Oregon Cultural Trust’s list. You can donate to us, then donate to the trust and get the money you gave to the trust back in the form of a tax credit.

Why would you do that? Because we believe that a healthy, active, adaptive culture, something we all need, requires a healthy, active, adaptive and independent source for culture news, analysis and commentary. We’ve been talking about that this week on the site: The stories we’ve written that have had a big impact, the stories that our new writers have written, the in-depth stories that introduce you to important artists in the community, the reviews from informed writers we post. As other sources for the news, feature stories and interpretation of the arts dry up, we believe that our contribution becomes more and more important.

We hope you think the same way! And if you do, it’s very easy to get started. Thanks for considering us!

Kill the NEA? What it might mean

The new administration wants to kill federal arts and cultural funding. That would squeeze every corner of the country, including Oregon.

One thing about the new administration: It’s moving at lightning speed. And it’s doing pretty much what the new president said it would. So while all the firings and hirings and executive orders and pipeline reboots and refugee get-the-boots swirl around us, it makes sense to believe that the administration wasn’t kidding when it targeted the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and federal backing of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for the garbage dump. Expect the effort to begin soon, while the administration still has its congressional party votes mostly in line. And expect potential allies in Congress to be engaged in other, bigger fights.

Which is not to say the shutdowns are a done deal. Down-in-the-trenches activism matters. There’s always the chance that these relatively small targets will get lost in the shuffle. And there’s always the chance that the effort to kill them will be weak, while the administration aims most of its firepower at bigger issues, and enough congressional Republicans will see casting a vote to protect a couple of small-potatoes programs as a handy way to show they are independent. On the other hand, these national cultural programs have long been targets of the Republican right, which could see this as its best moment to just get rid of them.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2016 production of Qui Nguyen’s “Vietgone,” with actor Jeena Yi, was funded partly by the National Endowment for the Arts. Photo: Jenny Graham

So it’s prudent to start to think about what life without the NEA and NEH might be like. (Most of the CPB’s budget is already independent, and it could probably make up most of what it stands to lose from private donors.) The New York Times’s Graham Bowley has a good rundown on the federal picture in his piece What If Trump Really Does End Money for the Arts? And Bob Keefer of Eugene Weekly takes a look at possible consequences in Oregon in his piece Trump Endangers NEA Funding for Local Arts. (Oregon Arts Commission leaders were meeting Thursday to decide what to say publicly and how to say it.)


ArtsWatch Weekly: season of gifts

Closing out 2016, giving to the groups that keep Oregon's culture alive and help it thrive

We are almost to an end and almost to a beginning, and neither is truly an ending or a beginning except in the way we divide and parcel time. Because we are a calendar- and clock-driven species, though, and because we live in a culture that regulates the trading chips we call “money,” the division of time between one year and the next has consequences. One such consequence is that we are in the time of giving, to the nonprofit organizations we believe in, and taking, of the tax credits available when we give those gifts before the end of the calendar year.

Like other nonprofits, arts groups large and small can’t cover their costs on ticket income alone. Figures vary, but it’s not unusual for cultural organizations to cover roughly half of their costs through earned income, and rely on grants and gifts for the rest. And while large donations are crucial, the lifeblood of most cultural groups is those smaller, regular, individual or family donations from everyday people – from you and me.


Elizabeth Woody, Oregon’s voice

The state's new poet laureate talks about writing, poverty, salmon, dams, race, family, and the keeping of a way of life

Elizabeth Woody walked into a Southeast Portland coffee shop two minutes behind me, just long enough for me to have snagged the only free table among a crowd of isolated laptop jockeys, and we sat down. She didn’t bother with coffee: she’d had a press of meetings and interviews since the day before, when her appointment to be Oregon’s eighth poet laureate was announced, and more coffee wasn’t in the cards. Plus, she was getting over a lingering bug.

She smiled, warmly, and we began to talk. About writing, and philanthropy, and poverty, and salmon, and dams, and racial violence, and friendships, and family. “I was brought up in a family that believes in public service,” she said at one point. “The house was always open to people from all over Oregon. People were always welcome.”

When word came from the Oregon Cultural Trust that Gov. Kate Brown had appointed Woody to succeed Peter Sears for a two-year term as poet laureate, I thought it seemed an inspired choice. I didn’t know her, though I knew several people who did, including her aunt, the artist Lillian Pitt. But I’d been familiar with her work for a long time, and knew her to be both a bridge-builder and a master of the difficult art of elevated plain speech, an approach to language that draws people in rather than shutting them out. Both traits seem key to the role of poet laureate, who is something of an ambassador-at-large for language, culture, and connection. They are qualities that helped Billy Collins, whose work is otherwise very different from Woody’s, become such a successful national poet laureate in the early 2000s.

Elizabeth Woody. Photo courtesy Oregon Cultural Trust.

Elizabeth Woody. Photo courtesy Oregon Cultural Trust.

Woody, who was born in the Navajo Nation town of Ganado, Arizona, and is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, is fifty-six years old, and she wears them well, like someone who’s made sure they fit. She’s one of those people who seem present. She embraces situations, concentrating directly on what and who are in front of her, and like a lot of writers she exudes both a comfort with new situations and a protective reserve: a desire to engage the world, and also a determination to safeguard her solitude. Her conversation rambles like a river, and the water’s clear.


ArtsWatch Weekly: In the Oregon Cultural Trust We Trust

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

And on the fifty-second week, ArtsWatch rested. For the most part, anyway. We hope you’ve been resting, too: Pretty soon, January’s going to come in huffing and puffing and roaring for attention.

In the meantime, we still have a couple of days, and here’s hoping they go smoothly and pleasingly for everyone. Happy New Year, from our home to yours. Let’s hope Old Man 2015 tiptoes softly away more successfully than his predecessor 1904, who got the bum’s rush from that feisty youngster 1905:

Baby New Year chasing the old year into the history books, John T. McCutcheon, from the book "The Mysterious Stranger and Other Cartoons by John T. McCutcheon," New York; McClure, Philips & Co., 1905. Wikimedia Commons

Baby New Year chasing the old year into the history books, John T. McCutcheon, from the book “The Mysterious Stranger and Other Cartoons by John T. McCutcheon,” New York; McClure, Philips & Co., 1905. Wikimedia Commons


We’ll note one more deadline before the year turns, and it’s a good and important one. Maybe you’ve already done it. Maybe you’ve been waiting for the countdown. We’re talking about your yearly donations to nonprofit organizations. For tax purposes, the deadline is the end of the year: choose those groups you want to support, decide how much you can give, and become part of the process. Oregon’s innovative Oregon Cultural Trust adds a terrific deal sweetener: match your donations to cultural groups with an equal gift to the Trust (up to a limit; $500 individual, $1,000 couples filing jointly, $2,500 corporate), and get the full amount you give to the Trust as a credit on your Oregon state income taxes.That amounts to doubling your donation for free. And the Cultural Trust spreads the money to every corner of the state, supporting arts, cultural, and tribal projects. Here’s how to make your Oregon Cultural Trust donation.


Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit, too. As the world of journalism changes, new forms of making it possible are taking shape, and we’ve chosen the nonprofit model, which allows us to accept donations from individuals, foundations, and other sources. Without those gifts, we couldn’t do what we do. As you’re making your year-end choices, please consider us, too. Here’s how to subscribe or donate to ArtsWatch. Thanks!



ArtsWatch links

The sounds of Oregon.  Our man at the turntable, MC Brett, has been spinning the discs of Oregon music released in 2015, and scratching out his thoughts about what he hears. Read Brett Campbell’s recommendations on contemporary classical recordings (David Schiff and Chamber Music Northwest, Susan Chan’s Echoes of China, The City of Tomorrow’s Nature, Catherine Lee + Matt Hannifin Duo’s Five Shapes, the Oregon Symphony’s Spirit of the American Range) and on historically informed recordings (three terrific recordings from the choir Cappella Romana, one terrific Bach recording from Portland Baroque Orchestra). Fair warning: Reading these posts may lead you to go out and buy some CDs for yourself.

In Mulieribus: approaching perfection. One of our favorite Oregon musical groups is the eight-woman chorus In Mulieribus, which roots around in music medieval and otherwise, and does quite wonderful things with it. Bruce Browne went to the chorus’s recent concert at St. Philip Neri Church and declared it nigh unto perfection. We’re bound to say, that’s pretty good.

Rachel Tess, early in the morning. You’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning to beat Rachel Tess at her own game. While most of us were still in bed on Monday morning, Tess was out on the streets of Northwest Portland, dancing the still-gloomy extended night away starting at 5:30 a.m. A few people were there to watch. Before that early-morning smackdown, Jamuna Chiarini talked with Tess about what was up, and why, with Rachel, a performance for the dead of night.



About ArtsWatch Weekly

We send a letter like this every Tuesday to a select group of email subscribers, and also post it weekly on the ArtsWatch home page. In ArtsWatch Weekly, we take a look at stories we’ve covered in the previous week, give early warning of events coming up, and sometimes head off on little arts rambles we don’t include anywhere else. You can read this report here. Or, you can get it delivered weekly to your email inbox, and get a quick look at all the stories you might have missed (we have links galore) and the events you want to add to your calendar. It’s easy to sign up. Just click here, and leave us your name and e-address.

And finally…

We end with a couple of requests. First, if you have friends or family members who you think would enjoy our cultural writing online, could you please forward this letter to them? The bigger our circle of friends, the more we can accomplish. Second, if you’re not already a member of ArtsWatch, may we ask you to please take a moment and sign on? What you give (and your donation is tax-deductible) makes it possible for us to continue and expand our reporting and commenting on our shared culture in Oregon. Thanks, and welcome!

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Finalists selected to lead the Cultural Trust and Arts Commission

The three candidates for executive director of the state's arts agencies speak in Portland

Oregon in the 1911 Brittanica encyclopedia/Wikimedia

Oregon in the 1911 Brittanica encyclopedia/Wikimedia

Last week, the Oregon Arts Commission and Oregon Cultural Trust invited the public to meet their three executive director finalists in meetings in both Portland and Salem on Monday, and then named them earlier this morning before the first, the Portland meeting at the Oregon Historical Society.


ArtsWatch readers can track public art dollars

Plus: Profile Theatre, Beta Collide, Marylhurst finalist, Stumptown's 'Aida'

Jordan VanSise, Marylhurst University United States, 2014 "Self-Portrait"

Jordan VanSise, Marylhurst University United States, 2014 “Self-Portrait”

I find it quite easy, not to mention delightful, to glide through the culture and its highest achievement, the arts, without a thought about the public support that helps so much of that achievement possible. (Yes, per the great John Dewey, the arts are the greatest human achievement, so eliminating them from schools is SUCH a good idea, right? I digress!) Support for the arts in Oregon has been low historically, though in recent years we’ve started to realize that ranking 50th or 47th in public funding for the arts isn’t such a good idea, and money dedicated to the care and nourishment of the arts has started to rise.

But this is a democracy, and we should keep an eye on the use of that public money. Yes, it’s appropriate that we spend money on the arts, and yes, it’s important that we figure out what the best use of that money is.

All of that is simply a prelude to our first couple of News & Notes items!

The Regional Arts & Culture Council has issued its 2013 annual report, and it’s well worth a look, if you are interested in how public money is supporting the arts. The raw revenue number itself is interesting: $7,473,927. And that doesn’t include any arts tax money, which will be coming online this fiscal year and next.

The Oregon Cultural Trust has reported that taxpayers donated 4.3%  more money to the trust in 2013 than in 2012, going from $3,960,094 in 2012 to  $4,131,520 in 2013. In the  the 2013-14 grant cycle, the trust awarded $1.6 million in grants, so that could go up a bit next year. By statute the Cultural Trust saves $.58 of each donor dollar in a permanent fund, which has reached $20 million.

And now some news from some arts organizations WE support (one way or another)…

Profile Theatre will substitute a production of True West for the previously scheduled Kicking a Dead Horse at the end of its Sam Shepard season this year. For us in the audience, that means a “classic period” Shepard (which also receives lots of productions) gets the nod over a newer, less frequently produced monologue play that premiered in 2007.

For artistic director Adriana Baer, the switch was necessary if Profile wanted to stage the five key Shepard “family” plays this year (Curse of the Starving Class, Buried Child, Fool for Love, and A Lie of the Mind are the others).

“Having just returned from visiting the Sam Shepard Archives in the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University, I realized that in leading a discussion of the work of Sam Shepard for our community, it was vital we provide Portland audiences an opportunity to see the quintet of family plays in its entirety,” Baer said in the press release. True West opens  November 6, 2014 on the Alder Stage at Artists Repertory Theatre. Tickets are currently on sale at Profiletheatre.org.

Marylhurst University sophomore Jordan VanSise is a finalist in the 2014 Sony World Photography Awards Student Focus competition, one of the ten finalists from around the world. His winning entry is above.

“This image was originally for a self-portrait assignment in one of my photography classes, VanSise was quoted in the press release. “I thought of the different “versions” of myself that I wanted to depict. I set my camera on a tripod and framed it how I wanted. Then I changed into different outfits and changed my spot on the couch, as well as making a variety of gestures. Afterwards I chose the shots I liked and put them together to make the final image.”

VanSise and the other finalists will be flown to London with their instructors to attend a gala ceremony in London where the recipient of the 2014 Student Focus Photographer of the Year title and the grand prize of €35,000 worth of Sony photographic equipment for the student’s school will be announced.

In addition, the finalists will see their “Self-portraits” series shown at Somerset House, London, May 1-18  and their work published in the 2014 edition of the annual Sony World Photography Awards book.

Stumptown Stages opens Elton John and Tim Rice’s version of Aida on February 20. The Egyptian love triangle stars Joann Coleman, James Langston Drake and Joy Martin, and will play in Brunish Theatre at Antoinette Hatfield Hall, 1111 SW Broadway, through March 9. Stumptown has given us a little taste in the preview below:

For ArtsWatch readers unable to attend the actual event: The University of Oregon continues its excellent series of live-streaming concerts at 7 pm tonight (February 19) from Beall Hall. Visiting professor and Kronos Quartet cellist Jeffrey Zeigler will work with Beta Collide, a group of UO faculty musicians, as they perform a set of brand new compositions by Oregon Composer Forum students Alex Bean, John Goforth, Noah Jenkins, and Avery Pratt.

Each composer will introduce his work by talking about the compositional method and technical aspectsas well as the aesthetic and personal influences. Each composition will have two readings, and in between, Zeigler and Beta Collide will engage the composer in a discussion of the
composition and perhaps suggest a tweak here or there that may improve the music and may then be implemented in a second performance.

The program includes:

  • Noah Jenkins, Z-Stack (2014) for flute, bassoon, trumpet, cello, and piano: This piece is based on a technique used in photography and microscopy in which several photographs of the same image are taken at different focal distances and compiled into a single image with greater depth of focus than any of the individual images.
  • John Goforth, Trio (2014) for flute, cello, and piano: Inspired by exploring the different ways these three instruments can interact with each other and how energy can be passed, stalled, or even subtracted as it passes from each player to the other, Goforth shaped the piece as one of growth and expansion.
  • Avery Pratt, Bolero (2014) for Flute, Bassoon, Trumpet, and Cello: This work transforms and explores the style of the dance in a more modern context through the use of timbre, orchestration, tonality, and rhythmic
  • The work of Matt Zavortink and Alex Bean will also be performed.

Internet through Live streaming.

Oregon ArtsWatch Archives