The Oregon Cultural Trust – What Does the Expiring Tax Credit Mean for Central Oregon?

The Oregon Cultural Trust
What Does the Expiring Tax Credit Mean for Central Oregon?

by RENEE PATRICK Cascade A&E Editor

“I think the tax credit – the mechanism of the trust – is one of the most brilliant models in this country for funding arts and culture. I have always found the Oregon Cultural Trust really easy to work with, it’s wonderful for a county outside of the Willamette valley to have a connection to the state capitol and the state. I think it can be very effective in pulling all the state cultural organizations together.” – Cate O’Hagan 

In October the Oregon Cultural Trust (OCT) celebrated ten years of supporting the arts, heritage and humanities throughout Oregon. An organization created around the principles of increasing the appreciation of our state’s cultural assets, the ten years have resulted in $25 million raised, over $11 million disbursed in grants to over 800 programs directly and an additional 1,900 projects through cultural coalitions throughout the state. The Trust has built an endowment of nearly $15.5 million, and has a goal of reaching $200 million to secure sustainable funding for Oregon’s future.

The tax credit is due to expire at the end of 2013. In 2013 Oregon legislators will be deciding not only the fate of the OCT, but also the thousands of cultural non-profits which receive funds each year for community enriching projects.

To better understand what an expiring tax credit would mean, it is necessary to look to the roots of this organization and the impact the grants, support and collaborations have had in the state and Central Oregon.
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History of the Oregon Cultural Trust
Spearheaded by Central Oregon’s Ben Westlund (now deceased) who served in the legislature and as Oregon State Treasure, The Trust was authorized as a concept by the Oregon Legislature in June 1999. To fund the Trust, an authorization (HB2923) of the cultural tax credit, the cultural license plate and the ability to transfer state assets to build the Trust was passed in a near-unanimous vote in July of 2001 and became effective in 2002.

Throughout the next year, the formation of county and tribal cultural coalitions created what would be the funding structure for disbursing moneys for art and culture throughout the state. Central Oregon’s Deschutes County, Crook County, Jefferson County and Warm Springs Coalitions were among the 36 county and six tribal coalitions formed.

The pivotal piece to the ability of the Trust to support the state-wide coalitions was the unique tax credit. By allowing donors to match a monetary gift to one of 1,300 participating cultural non-profits with a gift to OCT, the donor would get the match back via a credit to their state taxes. This meant a $50 donation to the OCT and a matching $50 donation to Arts Central would result in a $50 credit in taxes owed to the state for the Trust donation and the other $50 would be eligible for a charitable deduction off one’s state and federal taxes. Individuals can receive the tax credit up to $500, $1,000 for couples filing jointly and $2,500 for corporations.

The tax went into effect on December 1, 2002, and within the first month $1.5 million was donated to the trust and six months later the first round of grants were disbursed to the tune of $214,000.
While the OCT gets the majority of its funding from the tax credit, 100 percent of the cultural license plate surcharge ($30 per plate) is an additional source.

The Trust has had the ability to transfer state assets, specifically land sales, as one of their funding sources, but Oregon hasn’t had any surplus land to sell since 2003. “Because one of our projected revenue streams has been dry for ten years, it makes the money we get from private donors an even more significant source of funding for the Trust,” stated Meryl Lipman, communications manager for the Oregon Cultural Trust.
How the Trust Grants Money
The money gifted to the trust (42 percent of the dollars earned the previous year) gets divided equally among three branches of their grant programs:

The Cultural Development Grants funds are earmarked for supporting significant cultural programs and projects. These projects take part in an annual competitive grant cycle and support four key areas: access, making culture broadly available to Oregonians, preservation, investing in Oregon’s cultural heritage by recovering and preserving historic assets and achievements, creativity, the making and/or presentation of artistic or scholarly work and the development of artists, cultural experts and scholars and capacity, the strengthening of cultural organization to build stability and generate public confidence.

Cultural Partner Grants fund five statewide cultural organizations that share the OCT’s interest in supporting the arts across the state. Included are the Oregon Arts Commission, Oregon Humanities, Oregon Heritage Commission, State Historic Preservation Office and Oregon Historical Society. Through the Partner Grants, the OCT has provided funding for programs like Poetry Out Loud, Arts in Education, The Conversation Project and the Endangered Places program. Partner Grants have funded over 50 projects statewide since 2002.

Cultural Participation Grants fund the 42 county and tribal coalitions around the state. A pioneering program, Oregon is the only state with a county-by-county network of cultural plans specific to the assets and needs of each county and additionally distinct due to the equal access to funding for tribal governments. The third of the distributed funds that go into the Cultural Participation Grants are divided equally among the 42 coalitions. In 2012 this amounted to approximately $6,000 per coalition with the remaining funds divided up based on population. This is where Central Oregon’s local coalitions fit into the funding structure of the Trust.

Last year alone the Oregon Cultural Trust granted $1.45 million through the three grant programs above. All which will be in jeopardy if the tax credit is not continued by the Oregon Legislature.

The Impact on Central Oregon
Cultural Participation Grants have provided thousands of dollars to Central Oregon arts and cultural non-profits over the past ten years. The structure of each county and tribal coalition can differ from one to another. Some are free-standing non-profits, some are housed in county offices, some are umbrellaed under non-profits such as Arts Central in Deschutes County and many of the coalitions in the state are managed by the regional arts and culture councils. There is no competition on the state level between coalitions for grant money from the OCT, and coalitions are free to take donations, bequests or gifts to help supplement the money they receive from the Trust.

To look at what the impact could be on the future of these programs, we can look to what each of our four local coalitions has accomplished with the Cultural Trust’s assistance.

Deschutes County Cultural Coalition
Soon after the Deschutes County Cultural Coalition was formed by the OCT, a Cultural Plan was created in order to guide the coalition in awarding grant funds based on local and regional needs. A requisite document for all county coalitions, the Cultural Plan brings the Trust’s goal of supporting and protecting culture, art and heritage to the county level where representatives can best serve the needs of their particular community.

The Deschutes Cultural Coalition accepts grant requests from all sectors within the culture field including arts, heritage and humanities (with a 501(c)3 status). Requests must address one of the four priorities identified in the Cultural Plan: encourage greater awareness of local culture, ensure that cultural resources are accessible to all residents, utilize local cultural resources to promote economic vitality or help new and established cultural organizations increase their capacity to fulfill their mission.

Coalitions have complete authority to disburse the funds distributed from the OCT as long as they meet the guidelines. Reports are filed with the OCT each year to relay what projects were funded and how many people were impacted by those grants, and reports are also filed back to the Deschutes County Coalition from the projects they fund in order to qualify for funding in the future. “These parameters ensure the same accountability level as on the state level,” said Cate O’Hagan, Deschutes Cultural Coalition representative. “It’s the right thing to do and the funds need to be accounted for, it’s public money.”

O’Hagan went on to explain the beauty of the county coalitions is the skill building that can result on the local level. “Some of the smaller non-profits are not as skilled as grant writing. They can submit a grant to the OCT directly, but they may not be competitive [on the state level]. The Deschutes Cultural Coalition allows these smaller organization to qualify for funding that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to get.”

Annually the Deschutes County Cultural Coalition receives four to five more applications than they can fund and awarded grants can range from $500 – $5,000. The most competitive applications provide some matching resources, either in contributed goods and services or cash funding.

The Coalition received $16,756 in grant money from the Trust in 2012 with grant applications due at the beginning of November with funding decisions made by mid-December and distribution in January. See for more information on how to apply.

The Deschutes County Cultural Coalition 2011 grant recipients included the Tower Theatre Foundation for support for the production of and educational outreach efforts for A Christmas Carol, the Central Oregon Symphony Association for support of free community programs including Music in Public Places and the Virginia Riggs Children’s Concert, the High Desert Museum for supporting the creation of The Vanishing Landscape exhibit featuring artist James Thompson and the Sunriver Music Festival to support the operations of the festival.

Jefferson County Cultural Coalition
The Jefferson County Cultural Coalition was formed in 2003, with two grants awarded that first year. The Coalition’s goal is to increase local participation in the arts and foster an arts environment that celebrates the rich and varied cultures of Jefferson County while preserving the community’s  history for future generations.

With a grant deadline of mid-February, Jefferson County is particularly interested in expanding the opportunities for professionals and youth in arts, heritage, humanities and culture while raising awareness in the community at large about their significance.

Proposals need to match one of their five project areas: raising awareness of culture in the areas of arts, heritage or humanities; preserving and strengthening the environment for culture; strengthening the overall health of existing non-profit organizations and other groups or businesses that directly impact culture, increasing and supporting a healthy financial environment and support system for individuals in cultural professions or increasing the awareness and opportunities for culture for youth. More information can be found at

Typical grant amounts range from $300 to $1,500 and are awarded in early March. In 2012 Jefferson County awarded $6,156 to seven local non-profits including: Buff Intermediate School for the Third Annual Multicultural Festival, Central Oregon Film Festival – Inaugural Indie-Short Film Competition, Jefferson County Library District Traveling Storyteller for their Early Literacy Book Give-Away Project, Jefferson County Library Band for Score Sheet Purchase, Juniper Junction Community Council for This We Believe-Jefferson County, Airshow of the Cascades – Music In The Park and continuing projects of Jefferson County Girls Advisory Board – Local Mural Design and Painting, Kids Club of Jefferson County – Arts Projects and Central Oregon Cultural Byways Project.

Crook County Cultural Coalition
The Crook County Cultural Coalition annually awards grants to projects and activities that fit within the guidelines of the Crook County Cultural Plan. Seeking applications from all sectors within the culture field including the arts, heritage and the humanities, the applicants must meet one of the Cultural Plan’s six priorities: engage youth in the arts, heritage and culture; protect the investment in existing cultural resources; provide programs for young adults to further their cultural development; support cultural programs that stimulate economic growth; or encourage broader appreciation of the cultural traditions of diverse ethnic groups. Email for more details on how to apply for a grant.
The grant deadline for the county is the end of June. Their 2012 grant from the Trust amounted to $7,430. Funded programs this year included the Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition, an event that establishes deep cultural traditions which celebrates Western roots with an emphasis in heritage education, artistic expression and horse-related Western action; the Beaver State Historical Gunmakers guild which built an authentic, fully functional and useable replica of a flintlock model 1794 contract rifle as used by Lewis and Clark’s voyage of discovery; the Crook County Foundation to directly fund the appearance of musical talent with a range of influence and experience beyond Central Oregon for the 2012 Picnic in the Park series; the Crook County Historical Society to purchase new furnishings and equipment for the community room of the expanded A.R. Bowman Memorial Museum facility.
Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Coalition
The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs is currently completing their Cultural Plan, upon which time guidelines will be issued for grant applications. The cultural priorities of the coalition include promoting tribal members’ understanding of and involvement in cultural activities, traditions, arts, ceremonies, language, dance, history, music, etc.; passing on tribal knowledge and practices to youth to help them feel connected to their culture; to preserve, practice and teach tribal languages: Ichishkiin, Numu and Kiksht; and to support the work of tribal artists and traditional teachers, including their ability to earn a living from their work. Contact Shirley Sanders at 541-553-1161 for more information.

A recently funded project involved traditional net making. The tradition of fishing at scaffold platform sites is becoming a lost art; the grant reinforced the responsibility and the importance of learning traditional fish net making and fishing for salmon.
What Can We Do Now?
The Oregon Legislature is organizing for 2013 and will be forming a tax credit committee or committees to take a look at all tax credits in the state. Tax credits are in effect tax expenditures, so the representatives will be prioritizing those in relation to other spending priorities.

The Cultural Advocacy Coalition (CAC) is a non-profit organized for political activity, a wholly separate entity from the OCT, formed from cultural organizations and individuals who want to see continued participation from the state in art and culture. Because the CAC consists of members of cultural organizations, they are ideal advocates to explain how public investment impacts their communities and organizations.

“What the CAC does is to help connect those messages and those individuals with people who will be making decisions on the state level,” said Chris D’Arcy, executive director of the Oregon Cultural Trust. “To be an effective advocate for any issue is to have a relationship with the people make the decisions on those issues.”

While the CAC will be lobbying for the cultural tax credit, D’Arcy stresses the important action Central Oregonians can take is to support their local non-profits and make a matching donation to the Trust before the end of 2012.

“Right now we know that every cultural non-profit welcomes any community support,” commented D’Arcy. “A membership at the High Desert Museum or tickets to a show at the Tower Theatre or a donation to Arts Central, many people take these resources for granted, people need to support them. That is what is so powerful with the tax credit. It’s important when people think about how to participate, [the credit is also a ] year end way to improve their tax situations.”

On the county level D’Arcy suggests communicating with county commissioners about the good work being done in the arts and cultural organizations. On the state level, let the elected officials know why the investment made by the Cultural Trust is important on the local level. “I think all politics are local, if the elected officials that come from our part of the state know that these things are important, than the message really resonates.”

“When elected officials hear about these things regularly then it becomes a part of their world,” D’Arcy finished. “My advice to people who want to be good advocates: first make yourself available to local officials, let them know the good work you are doing in your organization. Let them appreciate you as a resource as they are looking for information to make up their mind. Invite people to a rehearsal or make a speech or publicly thank them in running for office. Developing those relationships can really make a difference.”

Oregon Cultural Trust:, Cultural Advocacy Coalition:

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