published Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Martinez: Could we save the arts for the price of a latte?

By Cherie Martinez

What would Chattanooga be like if you drove down Market Street and found the Tivoli Theatre sold off to private developers, the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera closed, the Hunter Museum and Chattanooga Theatre Centre just a memory, the Chattanooga Zoo abandoned and no local PBS station to show "Masterpiece Theater."

We enjoy these nonprofit entities because of the hard work, skills and determination of unpaid volunteers and donors who have the passion and the vision for the future of our culture -- the culture that we so often take for granted in this wonderful city.

Really, when Hamilton County politicians thump their chests, and the State of Tennessee officials slap each other's backs and say they are the reason Volkswagen is here, I beg to differ. Volkswagen is here because we offer a great variety of culture, arts and recreation. The arts must be important for Volkswagen as they sponsor many CSO programs at their facility.

If it wasn't for WTCI we would not be enjoying "Downtown Abby," "Nature," "Frontline" or the "PBS News Hour" from the most credible channel on our television dial.

The dirty secret is that Hamilton County government stopped funding the arts in 2010. The city continues to fund the arts at a level rate. The State of Tennessee offers a license plate that will pass on a portion of proceeds to the arts. These public sources pay a fraction of the cost of running these organizations, along with many other fine nonprofits, and the contribution from these public sources is declining. Nonprofits have to run harder and harder just to stay in place. Then, the politicians try to make it look like it's by their efforts alone that people come here to Chattanooga. Humbug!

It's not! Many should be ashamed to even admit their minuscule part to funding Chattanooga's cultural success. The sheer weight of trying to keep these fine institutions going, by donors and volunteers is starting to show. The CTC, CSO and the Chattanooga Zoo, I'm sure, have been on shoestring budgets for so long that it's hard for them to envision a future five years out.

We can solve this! If our Hamilton County taxes allocated on average $5 per person -- the cost of a latte -- to the arts, we could help keep these and other fine nonprofit organizations continuing for our children and the future of Chattanooga.

Wouldn't one latte be worth it, to have these and other nonprofits to keep Chattanooga at the top of the list of best cities?

Cherie Martinez is a Chattanooga arts advocate.

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aae1049 said...

Mandated property taxes, forced from citizens are not for art pursuits. Property taxes are for infrastructure, waste collection, emergency services. If these art venues cannot sustain on a supply/demand market, then we should not fund these venues that are losing millions a year. Sell the Tivoli and Memorial Auditorium to the private section, who can operate the venues under a business profit model. Hamilton County Government should not be funding these venues from taxpayers. Rent, sell, whatever, we have higher priorities.

September 29, 2013 at 10:13 a.m.
soakya said...

aae1049,

seem I agree with a lot you have to say. its a shame we are in the minority.

" Really, when Hamilton County politicians thump their chests, and the State of Tennessee officials slap each other's backs and say they are the reason Volkswagen is here, I beg to differ. Volkswagen is here because we offer a great variety of culture, arts and recreation." Really, really! Cherie you think VW is here because of the variety of culture, arts and recreation. VW is here because our politicians gave them a boat load of taxpayer money, at least 717 million in federal, state, and local.

I cannot believe you have the nerve to ask taxpayers and many who are living in poverty who will never step foot in one of these fine nonprofit organizations to fund your pet projects. You want them around then you pull the money out of your pocket.

Almost forgot to answer your question. NO it would not be worth the cost of one latte.

September 29, 2013 at 11:43 a.m.
nucanuck said...

soakya,

You are only half right.

VW may have been swayed by the inducements, but they would have never even considered Chattanooga if it had not been a city on the move, a city that had invested hugely in re-inventing itself. They were looking for a vibrant inner city as witnessed by the fact that their German employees have heavily favored proximity to the urban core. Don't kid yourself, the arts are very important to all advanced cultures and the arts have always been subsidized...throughout history.

September 29, 2013 at 5:41 p.m.
Travelinman423 said...

Re: aae 1049: But why stop with the sale of the Tivoli? Why not have the city and county sell off the softball diamonds, Chester Frost Park, Coolege Park, the Chattanooga Greenway, etc.? Just think of all the funds the government would raise to reduce taxes, to say nothing of all the operating expenses that would no longer be part of the government's budget...

And for soakya: VW did not come here for the tax package alone. There were similar tax incentives being dangled by other states, including Alabama and Mississippi. Alabama spent more on tax breaks to get Mercedes to come to Tuscaloosa than Tennessee did on Volkswagen. Thus the idea that VW came here just for tax breaks does not ring true, because they were not unique. And least we forget: VW could have located anywhere in Tennessee to get those tax breaks. They chose Chattanooga not randomly, but by design.

What is unique about Chattanooga is our quality of life, of which the arts and our recreation facilities, along with our geography, play a vital part. Even if you do not partake in the arts or recreation opportunities, you benefit from the attraction of those who do; the spending of their incomes and the taxes that they pay, all of which is reflected in government revenues.

Payment for the arts and recreation is proportionate. Since property taxes pay for most of our local government, the poor pay little or nothing depending on the amount of real estate they occupy, while the affluent pay more with their higher assessed residences. Thus when thinking of preserving the arts by having government raise per person funding by the price of a latte, or a pack of cigarettes, or a six pack of beer, we are speaking of an average cost and burden on the average citizen. Some would pay more, some pay less and some pay not at all.

Against this cost is the benefit of attracting companies, workers, visitors, etc., all of whom contribute to the economic well-being of Chattanooga. If the arts does this, then it should be worthy of government support. While you may not see yourself as benefitting personally, you do benefit economically. How much personal benefit you derive depends on how much you participate in the many facets of the arts that are offered for free. If you elect not to participate, then that is your right. However, you still benefit.

September 29, 2013 at 5:52 p.m.
soakya said...

excellent points travelingman and nucanuck and I agree with a quite a bit of what you say but its always about the money, always. the argument you present traveling man means there's not much government shouldn't be involved in.

September 29, 2013 at 6:30 p.m.
Travelinman423 said...

soakya:

nucanak spoke of the social contract that other governments have between the arts and government. If I had to guess, Volkswagen is probably bewildered with the request for funding from various arts and charity groups. In Germany, government pays for close to 100 percent of the arts. It does result in higher tax rates, but the German people seem to appreciate it, along with other government services. Germany's growth and financial health have not suffered from the higher tax burden.

The "involvement" of government in the arts occurs on a far more minor scale here. However, such involvement needs to have public scrutiny to avoid becoming political. When Ron Littlefield, starting in 2005, diverted funds from arts organizations to start his own city department of cultural affairs, the act appeared to be more political than effective, especially given the salaries of those who ran it. The funds diverted to salaries and other costs of the department were in part previously parceled out as grants to arts organizations.

When Hamilton County pitched a hissy fit in 2011, and eliminated funding for the arts to compensate for the loss of sales tax revenues to the city, it calculated that it made what it considered a small group pay for its loss of funds to the city. Never mind that the funds paid for much of the arts in Hamilton County Schools,free classroom trips to the Tivoli to hear the Symphony, art classes, etc. This too was political, for a different reason. There is some evidence that part of the county funds were restored by the discretionary funds of various county commissioners, but this does not substitute for a stable county funding policy.

What several areas such as Oklahoma City, Boulder, CO, and the like have done is red-lined a portion of their total budgets to the arts, in the range of 1-2 percent. Then a citizen's panel is appointed to parcel out the funds with full transparency. This makes government funding of the arts more collective and less political than the two incidents that have occurred in Chattanooga and Hamilton County in recent years. It is an idea worth considering.

So long as the arts (and recreation, for that matter) brings in funds to the area, why should it not be supported by the government? Because all of us are the ultimate beneficiaries, and thus for this reason, all of us should pay proportionality. Additional funding can be provided by individuals and foundations. Since the arts benefit the entire community, the private sector is not in a position to totally fund because it does not exclusively benefit. Only the government can provide collective funding for collective benefits.

We do need a process to insure that such funds are wisely appropriated, and do not serve a political purpose. Nor should government entities and politicians who do not contribute, be able to access or take credit for the arts in the manner of government entities who do contribute to the arts.

September 29, 2013 at 9:03 p.m.
aae1049 said...

Corporations don't act on the emotions of art. VW did act on the $212 million in local bond issues and other funding from our local tax base. Mandated property taxes are not for optional pursuits. The people of Chattanooga cannot afford to fund optional art at this economic downturn, and never a day is it a function of government to provide art to please a group of elite rich people that want their will with the taxpayers dollars that are solely for infrastructure, emergency services, and waste collection. Hey, our wastewater flows in the river untreated, and you want to blue rhino, oh please grow up.

September 29, 2013 at 9:21 p.m.
volsam said...

I personally can't afford a latte, so I guess I'm not for the Government funding art.They say that they don't have enough money to fund schools, pave roads, or hire more police officers to control gang activity.Not everyone approves of funding artists to make a bunch of unrecognizable objects that get admired by more birds than people.What is this France?Gimme a break.

September 29, 2013 at 9:57 p.m.
Tarzan said...

aae1049.. What are the higher priorities ? Isn't keeping businesses in our area a top priority? You say only for the elite rich enjoys the culture of Chattanooga. Are poor people a second class citizen to you ? You mean a poor person won't want to go to the Zoo, hear music, go to the Creative Museum or Hunter? Because they are poor they don't enjoy things that other people like? Are you the judge of all in Chattanooga? Have you asked them?

Soaka..again, poverty means you can't enjoy the non profits?

If you don't like what's going on in Chattanooga, elect local politicians that will create jobs, that in turn will help in revenues for the city. If the city doesn't make money our infrastructure does not get fixed, our home prices go down and we are left with a city like in the 70s.

A city is like a relationship..put nothing in you get nothing back. If both work for the greater good, the whole city wins.

It's sad to lose the very things that people come to Chattanooga for because we don't want to shell out $5. Tell that to your kids when you try to go to the zoo!

September 30, 2013 at 1:02 p.m.
soakya said...

Non-profit means the organization doesn't pay taxes, it doesn't mean its free to visit the non-profit. does it cost to go to the zoo? last time I took my children it did.

I believe those living in poverty are just a little less concerned with the arts than those pushing for this nonsense. the arts are not to high on the hierarchy of needs for the poor.

September 30, 2013 at 1:13 p.m.
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