Embrace the Gray Area

One of my favorite phrases as a pre-schooler was, “it’s not fair.” I have had an acute sense of right and wrong, fair and unfair since I was old enough to say those three words. My parents always said I would make an excellent judge. It’s always been easier for me to see right and wrong answers to a question. But the arts are all about the gray area, and thinking about the world in that way is more difficult for me. But I welcome the challenge and value the arts’ capacity to open my mind to the possibility of more than one correct answer.

My pre-school “it’s not fair” mindset goes into super drive whenever I read, write talk, or think about funding for the arts. When state legislatures are proposing to apply a new tax to entertainment venues, including non-profit organizations, I get a little fired up. This is exactly what is happening in Rhode Island, and the 6% admissions sales tax, if passed, would hit Trinity Repertory Company’s education programs very hard. Our student matinee program brings tens of thousands of students to the the theatre every year. It’s already hard enough for teachers to get approval for field trips, and now we would have to raise ticket prices? This tax would also apply to all of our on-site theatre classes. We have students in our classes whose guidance counselors are paying a discounted rate just to give their theater-minded, rock star students a chance to explore something they are passionate about. With this tax, we would ask these already generous individuals to pay even more out of pocket? And our Young Actor’s Summer Insitute would be hit hard as well with this tax adding $80 to each student’s tuition. Can we really ask our students’ parents to shell out this additional money when they are facing numerous financial challenges in this economy? I don’t think so. 

Saying that state and federal budgets are tight would be the understatement of the century. This sales tax on admissions would generate some much-needed revenue. But at what cost? When I think about the effect this would have on arts programming and arts education in Providence and state-wide, it’s hard to understand the other point of view. It’s hard to see the gray area, but it’s there.

If the arts have taught me anything, it’s that there is always more than one answer. I refuse to believe that this admissions tax that would have such an adverse effect on non-profit arts organizations is the only answer to the state’s budget problems. There is always a compromise to be made. The question then becomes, are we willing to do the work necessary to reach it?

For more information on arts advocacy in Rhode Island, check out Rhode Island Citizens for the Arts.

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