November 25, 2014
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Why Wickford should have an art district

To the Editor:

I want to add my public disappointment to that of members of the arts community, and other Wickford residents, on the failure of the General Assembly to approve legislation this year that would have created an art district in the town.
My disappointment is in direct contrast to the enthusiasm felt when the bill that I sponsored, 2012-S 2448, was read and passed by the Senate on May 30 on a vote of 36-0. The bill was subsequently referred to the House Committee on Finance, where it remained – un-addressed – until the General Assembly adjourned a short time later.
As proposed in the legislation, the Wickford Art District was to include certain areas along Route 102, commencing at the Hussey Bridge running west along Route 102, including Phillips Street, Ten Rod Road and Victory Highway, to the intersection of Routes 102 and 2 and including the Rodman Mill Pond area.
Tax-exempt art districts have already been established in several communities in the state, including Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, Warwick, Westerly, Warren and Newport. An art district provides three different kinds of incentives: for artists living and working in the district, any sale of work created within the district is exempt from sales tax; for artists who live and work in the district, any income they receive from the sale of work they have created within the district is exempt from personal income tax; for gallery spaces in the district, the sale of original works of art are exempt from sales tax whether or not they were created within the district.
Wickford thrives on the arts, and artists and artisans bring life and vibrancy and visitors to our community; visitors who may come looking for art but find many other shops and stores and restaurants that benefit from the influx of these consumers. Supporting and promoting an active artistic community benefits the entire community, culturally and economically. Moreover, these artists are also town residents and contribute to our community through property taxes and other consumer spending. They also contribute by creating jobs at their galleries and businesses and by making their properties and galleries presentable and attractive. Their success is the community’s success and providing this tax exemption would have helped them succeed.
You don’t have to accept my word on all that. You can visit the area and talk to those who call Wickford home or a home to their business. Or you can take the word of the Providence Business News, which did a cover story and editorial earlier this month addressing the value of the arts and art districts, not just in monetary terms but also in the culture and creativity they bring to a community. In the PBN editorial, “Wickford arts district should happen soon,” July 2-8, 2012, the paper lamented the failure of the legislation to be enacted this year. Said the editorial: “The idea that the home of the Wickford Arts Festival, an event that is celebrating a 50-year anniversary this summer, could not be included in this economic boon to artists and galleries alike is unfathomable. It’s a simple thing to rectify this oversight as soon as the 2013 legislative session opens, which would make the 51st anniversary a very special one indeed.”

James C. Sheehan
Senator – District 36
Narragansett, North Kingstown


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