Initiative could lead to free or reduced admission to arts in Tri-Cities

By Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldDecember 9, 2013 

A statewide arts and science coalition is working to draft legislation that could lead to reduced or free admission to cultural and scientific educational events in the Tri-Cities.

The Cultural Access includes 36 arts, science and heritage institutions statewide with the goal of increasing access to all cultural experiences, including science centers and zoos.

Members of the coalition met recently with about 20 representatives from Tri-City area arts organizations to gather greater support.

"Access to arts, science and heritage experiences strengthens communities and individuals," said Carol Albert, chairwoman of the Cultural Access committee. "Communities and regions that are home to vibrant cultural organizations are more competitive for high paying jobs and high quality workers and greater economic prosperity."

The initaitve would allow the creation of county taxing districts so money can be raised through voter-approved sales tax or property tax levies to support the operating budgets of qualifying cultural institutions.

The money then could be used to provide programs for students and residents and to pay for school transportation to these activities.

The coalition is working to gather support from communities across the state first. So far, the responses have been positive, Albert said.

Tri-City supporters like the idea of specific funding for the arts each year, but some are skeptical if enough voters would agree to taxation to get it.

"The western side of the state has tried twice to get the Legislature to allow them to up their sales tax rate in order to support the arts and it failed," said Deb Donahoe and Adele Connors with the Academy of Children's Theatre.

"Organizers finally realized that they have to get the rest of the state on their side in order to get the measure to pass."

That being said, they added, there's still the dilemma of making sure the Legislature passes the initiative. Then commissioners in Benton and Franklin counties would have to decide whether to set up such districts.

Nancy Doran, a member of Camerata Musica organization, is all for doing what it takes to increase funding for local arts events, making them more affordable for lower income families.

However, getting voter approval for a property or sales tax increase would be a challenge.

"I am concerned that the chances of passing a sales tax increase locally are very slim," Doran said.

The coalition sees the cultural access proposal as a great opportunity because it would increase attendance at events by providing reduced or free admission, expand arts experiences for students and give voters the power to approve the revenue for the arts and control how the money is spent in each county.

"This proposal gives local voters a tool to increase access to the arts, heritage and science experiences," Albert said. "The initiative is modeled after other successful programs throughout the United States."

-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @dorioneal

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