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ANOTHER VOICE: Reauthorize Oregon Cultural Trust Tax Credit

Where would the Gorge economy be without arts, history and culture?

Would the new tour boats stop at the new dock in The Dalles if they didn’t have the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, the historic murals or historic downtown to experience?

Would visitors come to Hood River or move here without the Gorge’s great cultural assets (local artwork displayed in stores and restaurants, our thriving outdoor gear design), the Fruit Loop or Columbia Center for the Arts? Could Insitu and Google attract great employees? Could Mid-Columbia Medical Center or Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital?

We so often take our arts, history and cultural attractions for granted. Yet, when you think about the collectively, they’re essential to our way of life — and our competitiveness. Would Nike would be the number-one sports and fitness company in the world without great, creative thinkers and innovators? Without designers?

This year, the Oregon Cultural Trust is at a critical crossroads: Its unique, 10-year-old cultural tax credit is up for reauthorization by the Oregon Legislature. The Oregon Cultural Trust is our state’s cultural champion, granting more than $12 million in more than 900 grants to cultural groups across the state — and simultaneously building a permanent fund for culture in Oregon. The Trust represents a tiny fraction of the Oregon’s overall state budget but is paying big dividends across our state, especially in our rural communities.

The impact of the cultural tax credit amounts to roughly $3 million per year to the state’s budget. But the impact of its investments way exceeds that investment. Over 8,750 jobs are directly tied to the 1,300 arts, heritage and humanities groups supported by the Cultural Trust. Those jobs generated more than $272 million in wages, and returned over $52 million in state and local taxes.

The Trust builds community in counties large and small, and increases philanthropy in Oregon, requiring donors to give to cultural groups, then to the Trust in order to use the innovative tax credit. Trust grants must also be matched, attracting additional community investment in culture.

Here in the Gorge, the Trust provided important grants to Columbia Arts for various exhibits and cultural programs, as well as the Hood River County Historical Society, Gorge Music Series and the Fruit Foundation Historical Society for exhibits at its museum in Pine Grove. In Wasco County, the Trust supported The Dalles Arts Center, the Civic Auditorium and the Gorge Discovery Center.

Smaller groups like the Shaniko Preservation Guild, Gorge Artists, Theatre Company of The Dalles, and Dufur Historical Society/Living History Museum have been funded by the Wasco County Cultural Coalition, as the Trust supports a cultural coalition in each of Oregon’s 36 counties.

More than $12 million has been awarded since 2003, helping to fill gaps in arts education through in and after-school programs, summer camps, student internships, artist residences, writers conferences and community library programs.

Did you know that the most recognizable Oregon icon to culture/heritage travelers is not Mount Hood but the Oregon Trail? And that heritage travelers to Oregon (from British Columbia, Washington, California and NYC as well as from Oregon itself) spend 60 percent more than they do in other states — more than $1,600 per trip as opposed to $1,023 in other states?

According to a new study undertaken in partnership with Travel Oregon, travelers are seeking authentic cultural experiences as they make travel plans, and Oregon’s cultural sector is key to growing the approximately $4 billion annual travel industry here.

The Oregon Cultural Trust was established by the Legislature in 1992 and is ranked with the Bottle Bill, Beach Bill and Vote by Mail among our most innovative policies. No other state in the country has a cultural funding mechanism like Oregon Cultural Trust. A unique tax credit lets the Trust function as a private-public partnership, with 100 percent of donations going to grants or a permanent fund.

As a Gorge resident, I was proud to be appointed by governors Kulongoski and Kitzhaber to the volunteer board of the Oregon Cultural Trust.

I hope you will join me in contacting state senators Ted Ferrioli and Chuck Thomsen, and reps. John Huffman and Mark Johnson and urge them to renew the Oregon Cultural Trust tax credit.

The tax credit is not just a “nice idea,” it’s a “must-have” for the Oregon of the future.

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Lee Weinstein of The Dalles is a fourth-generation Oregonian and small-business owner.

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