As this year’s tax deadline approaches, Portlanders just surpassed a big milestone: investing a total of $100 million in local arts programming since voters approved the Arts Education and Access Fund in 2012.
Entering its 10th year, the “arts tax” makes it possible for every grade school student across six school districts in Portland to take art, music, dance or drama classes. The funding also supports grants for local nonprofit organizations, with an emphasis on expanding access to underserved communities.
“By investing in art, we invest in our Portland,” said Arts and Culture Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who serves as liaison to the City’s arts programs. “This funding plays an important role in bringing us together as a community, supports a broad spectrum of artists, and plays an important role in bringing arts to underrepresented communities. It sparks the imagination of our youngest Portlanders and fuels our creative economy.”
Proposed by community advocates and approved by 62 percent of voters, the $35 annual fee is collected and administered by the City of Portland. All Portland adults are required to participate if they earn more than $1,000 per year and have a household income above the federal poverty level.
Revenue is distributed to all of Portland’s public school districts: Centennial, David Douglas, Parkrose, Portland Public, Reynolds and Riverdale. Allocations are based on enrollment, funding one arts specialist for every 500 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Prior to 2012, Portland schools employed 31 elementary school arts teachers – leaving nearly 12,000 students with no access to art, dance, drama or music at school. Today, with the support of the Education and Access Fund, about 100 teachers deliver creative curriculum across every Portland elementary school.
“I am inspired by teaching arts education to my students,” said Jessica Juday, a music educator in the David Douglas School District whose position is supported by the Arts fund. “It’s about creating a love of music, and sharing joy with those around you. Every day I get to watch children discover new things, and they do it with such thought and care... it’s hard to not be inspired!”
After schools receive their allocations, remaining money is distributed to local arts organizations by the City’s nonprofit arts partner, the Regional Arts & Culture Council. Grant programs emphasize expanding access to the arts and supporting culturally specific organizations.
Since 2012, approximately 63 percent of the $100 million raised by the Arts Education and Access Fund has gone to schools, 26 percent to grants and 11 percent to program administration.
Although Portlanders generally support arts and culture, some have criticized the mechanism for collecting the annual fee. One recurring complaint involves difficulty tracking who has moved into – or out of – city limits. Others say the $35-per-year fee disproportionately affects people with low incomes.
Over the next two years, Portlanders will be invited to weigh in on the most effective ways to support arts and culture. The City Arts Program is collaborating with a coalition of regional partners to launch a cultural planning process that will include robust community engagement.
“This process will help us assess the state of arts and culture in our region, identify opportunities, address inequities, and develop a clear vision for arts and culture going forward,” said Jeff Hawthorne, who manages Portland’s City Arts Program. “Today, we can celebrate $100 million of investment in making Portland a more creative, more inspiring place.”