The Portland Art Museum (Image via

The Portland Art Museum (Image via

Though the National Endowment for the Arts seems under constant threat of being gutted, one city initiative is putting arts funding at the forefront of civic responsibility rather than last on the list. In November of last year, Portland, Oregon, passed a new annual income tax of a flat $35 fee that goes directly to supporting local arts organizations.

The tax will bring in an estimated $12.2 million a year from 350,000 people, money that will go to Portland elementary schools to hire “certified arts or music education teachers” and the Regional Arts & Culture Council, which supports non-profit Portland arts organizations, explains the city’s website. The arts tax applies to everyone equally, unless you make no income or are below the poverty line.

The Portland arts tax form (Image via

The Portland arts tax form (Image via

Rather than including it within the normal tax paperwork, Portland has made it possible to pay the tax online, in person, or by mail. If you pay the $35 before March 25, you won’t be sent any paper forms, but it sounds like some residents are getting confused by the flier that the city is sending out to remind Portlanders of their culture-supporting duties. “It seems the way they’re letting people know about it might be unintuitive — by sending out a separate form that may look like junk mail,” Portland musician Brandon Summers told KGW. The mailing is meant to remind residents to pay online, thus saving on paper costs and redirecting more money to the arts, explained Portland Revenue Bureau’s director Thomas Lannom.

Despite some controversy over the possibility that the fee constitutes a “head tax,” the arts tax has survived and is meant to be permanent. It makes for an interesting comparison to Brazil’s recent implementation of a $25-a-month stipend for workers to pay for “cultural expenses” like books, movies, and art museum tickets through a designated card. While Brazil is providing more funding for cultural consumption, however, Portland is collectively paying for supporting cultural infrastructure, stabilizing the forever shaky status of arts teachers.

The hopeful part is that in both cases, governments are implementing positive legal changes that make funding arts not only possible but also necessary, posing supporting culture as an inherent element of social responsibility. That’s something we can all get behind.

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Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...

7 replies on “Portland’s New $35 Arts Tax Begins”

  1. Wow, in the words of Will Smith “shit just got real”.

    This is a fantastic move and one that could be emulated in a lot of other cities around the world, kudos Portland!

  2. With tax comes regulation… so it will be interesting to see if tax payers will have more of a say in which exhibits / venues receive funding (and how much). Let us not forget that many arts non-profits that receive funding embrace politically one-sided views. It will be interesting to see how they react if local government calls for a more balanced approach in order to receive funding.

    1. The only way that would work is if we start requiring all entities receiving tax breaks and subsidies to be “balanced”. Think you are going to convince the local church school to teach a more balanced view?

  3. Can’t we force people to contribute to OPB while we’re at it? Let’s get creative, people!

  4. I guess I will be the one who’s the downer. The way I see it is; I pay enough taxes and quite a bit of our money goes towards causes like breast cancer, children’s causes and such. This is just not sitting right with a lot of people, including myself. If they do expect people struggling along to do this, I would certainly hope they throw some incentives in. Like for example: free shows (theatre / plays), ice skating voucher, 2 free art class, OMSI tickets, free summer pass to the zoo for two. It’s a “head tax”, no matter how you look at it its a head tax, which is unconstitutional. What about a tax for mental health?? That would be very beneficial, especially in our day and age

  5. This regressive flat tax is being challenged in court as an unconstitutional head tax and
    many are already vowing to boycott it. Arts are not a
    civic necessity like roads, sewers or a water system and this one was sold to the public as “jobs for art teachers.” Not quite. Nearly half the money would go the the Regional Arts and Culture Council which embarks on such foolery as paying a filmmaker $5000 to take a trip to Hawaii to look at some bees and make a movie about his trip. Using the taxing authority of the city to fund tripe like that is immoral and unconscionable.

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