The Lincoln County Cultural Coalition recently named this year’s grant recipients, including (thank you) Oregon ArtsWatch. We talked with Niki Price, co-chair of the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition as well as vice chair of the Oregon Cultural Trust, about funding art in coastal communities, the state’s role, and why these coming weeks are so important.
You mentioned this is an important time of year for funding the arts. Why?
Niki Price: The money for the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition grants comes from donations by thousands of Oregonians, through the Oregon Cultural Trust. And the deadline for donating to the trust is Dec. 31. This is a uniquely Oregonian way of funding arts, culture, heritage, and humanities.
People in Oregon donate to the Oregon Cultural Trust, and the trust distributes money to cultural coalitions across the state. The trust works in two ways. First, it incentivizes giving at the local level for arts and culture, because that’s the first step. You match your local gift with a donation to the trust, and those donations are used statewide. For example, say my husband and I give our annual donations to our local favorites: the Lincoln City Cultural Center, Theatre West, and the North Lincoln County Historical Museum. Together, those donations total $500. In the same calendar year, by Dec. 31, we match those combined donations with a $500 gift to the Oregon Cultural Trust. When we file our 2019 taxes in April 2020, we check the box that indicates we gave to the trust, and that $500 is deducted from our state tax bill.
Then the cultural trust gathers up those donations — $4.5 million last year. In accordance with statute, 40 percent is invested in the permanent cultural trust fund. A small amount goes to administration, and the rest is distributed through cultural partners, in competitive grants, and through the cultural coalition system. There are cultural coalitions in every county, and they receive a distribution based on their population. But there’s a minimum amount, so counties with the smallest populations often receive more per capita than the metro areas.
Why is that?
The founders of the trust believed that everyone, even those in rural areas a long way from Portland, deserve access to cultural activities and to sustaining our heritage. But they don’t always have the donor base to make it happen. Through the county coalitions, those small organizations in rural areas get a little extra support.
How do you determine who gets the grants?
For our coalition, which has a maximum award of $1,300, we ask nonprofits to fill out a standard form and submit it by Oct. 15 each year. Then, the members of the coalition grade and score the applications based on our pre-set cultural priorities. We hold a public grant hearing and invite all the applicants. We make awards up to $1,300 for projects that will directly benefit the people of Lincoln County in the areas of arts, culture, and heritage and humanities. Through the years I’ve served, the coalition has funded many different projects, including new display cases at a museum, dance programs for children, and fused glass workshops for a senior center. A few years ago, we helped purchase art for the Siletz Valley Friends of the Library, when they were building a collection of special baskets. That’s what is great about our county coalition grantmaking, it can fund a variety of things as long as they are of cultural importance to that community.
What is the biggest challenge in getting people to donate to the Oregon Cultural Trust?
People just don’t believe it. It sounds too good to be true. I have explained the trust tax credit many times, and it’s kind of funny, really. I explain it and they say, “You mean a deduction?” I say, “No, not a deduction, it’s a full credit.” It doesn’t lessen the amount that you pay, it gives you the ability to tell the state to spend your tax money on culture. We’ve been told that our Cultural Tax Credit is the only one of its kind in the country. It works, and it was just reauthorized by the state Legislature for six more years. We find once we convince a donor to do it once, we rarely have to resell that donor. Once you try it, you’re in.
What effect do the arts have on the quality of life for people on the coast?
It’s really important. I have heard from many people, especially people looking to retire. They’re not interested in retiring in a place that doesn’t have arts activities and programs. They might shop all over the coast and be able to live wherever they want to live, and they will choose a place based on the availability of the things they love.
Lincoln County has a high rate of poverty. Is it difficult to get people to donate to the arts?
People on the coast are very generous, and they want culture in their lives — and in the lives of young people. Yes, we have a lot of poverty here, especially among the working families who are doing their best to educate, feed, and clothe their children. But we also have a strong contingent of retirees and part-time residents who want our community to be strong. And for most of us, “strong” means having meaningful activities and avenues for personal growth. Giving to a local cultural nonprofit makes that happen locally, and giving to the trust makes it happen across the state.
This story is supported in part by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, investing in Oregon’s arts, humanities and heritage, and the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition.