Tag Archives: cultural needs assessment

Trend # 6: Should Cultural Institutions Pay Property Taxes in 2011?

Happy New Year everyone! May your year be creative and exciting as you lead the way in the world of arts, culture, and creativity.

Today is the first business day of 2011, and today’s trend in our Eleven Trends for 2011 sets the tone for thinking about the relationships between local governments and nonprofit cultural organizations this year.

Does your organization expect to pay taxes on your building this year? NGO watchers expect municipalities to look increasingly at various forms of tax on land-owning nonprofit institutions that have traditionally remained exempt. While the early targets of this have been entities such as nonprofit senior living centers and educational institutions, along with some churches, it will be increasingly hard for governments that are starting to tax these types of nonprofits to leave museums, cultural centers, and nonprofit cultural facilities off the municipal tax rolls. Some of the taxes will come in the form of user fees – sewer, water, street maintenance, snow removal, security – but others will be a straight property tax. Expect this to come up for discussion as budget season starts everywhere and local government face shortfalls. Be ready to advocate, and organize to develop win-win solutions.

And win-win scenarios can happen. Economic development specialists and many others recognize the importance of nonprofit cultural institutions and related districts to economic vitality. Cultural districts that work can literally save urban areas, which economic leaders well know.

Performing arts centers or museums that need a subsidy to keep their programming alive, at the same time create the restaurant scene that keeps downtowns lit, exciting, safe at night, and create business for nearby parking facilities, retail, and more. The net positive economic impact is usually much greater than any subsidy, but this equation may need to be stated and documented with more clarity than ever before.

When good documentation of this net positive benefit is offered, look to economic development and planning specialists to be strong advocates and important allies in finding equitable solutions that keep tax/fee costs down while stressing -and building – the value of nonprofit cultural institutions as drivers of business and property values. Cultural organizations that have never met their colleagues in local economic development agencies need to start building good partnerships now for this to happen.

A tested and viable approach is service in lieu of taxes (or fees) that can be win-wins for the public sector and NGO cultural organizations. These approaches have typically included options such as free admission days to the public for museums, or free performances for civic celebrations. While not always easy to arrange – i.e. the contractual issues of professional musicians or actors doing free events – the public willl see tremendous benefits and the in-kind arrangements are almost universally more favorable than the tax or service fees would be.

Among other scenarios: look to more currently unaffiliated groups of nonprofits in a downtown or other part of the city to define themselves as a group and establish BIDs or similar districts, with strength to market themselves as a group and create an advocacy base that establishes favorable contracts with municipal departments and works toward building the excellent reputations that attract developers to a neighborhood. While this, too, has been a tested practice, count on seeing it more widely used with the goal of creating economic value for the municipal government by boosting the overall property values in what could be multiple small cultural and creative districts. (Sometimes smaller districts, each with a unique identity and niche, can be more effective in notching up investment a few blocks at a time.)

Look, too, at the marketing and fundraising opportunities that may come about as groups see strength in banding together. Even donors that aren’t particularly interested in, say, a historical society or community arts center may get behind “The Cultural Centers of City X” based on what the group of institutions make possible in economic growth.

Consider this to be a newly focused type of united fund concept, in which savvy organizations work in small and symbiotic coalitions – perhaps subsets of larger cultural funds, or groups coming together for the first time – to attract attention from today’s cause-oriented donors. Look to coalitions like this to develop joint case statements about their combined contributions to the six or eight block areas they anchor, demonstrating their value in social and economic stories that compel more financial support – even in the face of municipal fees – because of their combined net value. When groups can show that “in our six blocks, our four organizations make X economic difference” and when they can show that the net positive difference far outpaces the cost of public services for their few blocks of geography, they can develop quite a case for support.

At the end of the year, expect there to be some impressive new models in place, where marketing, advocacy, and excellent working partnerships with municipal governments and economic developers pave the way for actual boosts in overall local support for cultural institutions.

The Culture in Cultural Development

Culture is everywhere in the news. The culture of Wall Street investment banks. The culture of American political views. The culture of change. The Gen X culture versus the Baby Boom culture. The culture of greed versus the culture of giving. The very polarized high art versus real life culture that author Lee Seigel described in the Wall Street Journal last Saturday (September13) talking about a new round of culture wars in America. (Heaven help us!)

So what kind of culture do I focus on when talking about community cultural development? How do communities actually go about planning for culture? If you are doing cultural planning, how can you steer clear of culture wars and instead focus on doing good civic planning via culture?

There is plenty of “culture” included in cultural development planning. A few of the keys…

- The culture of place
– The culture of community identity(ies) and values
– The culture of the arts and artistic/creative expression
– The culture of heritage, history, and tradition
– The culture of the natural and built environment
– The culture of aesthetics
– The culture of education

Can you plan to facilitate the expansion, strength, and utilization of these cultures as a part of community planning? Yes.
In furthering these, can you develop strategies for the resulting “culture” to play an increased role in economic development? Yes.
Can you develop a democratic community consensus on cultural priorities within these? Yes.
Can you budget for cultural development, and determine a return on investment scenario? Yes.

Coming into a new town, I’ll often te told, “we don’t have much culture here.” Ah, but you do. It is who you are, where you are from, your hometown pride or lack thereof. It is what you value and what you teach. It is how you celebrate your creativity and how you recreate. It is how you keep reinventing your communities to keep pace with tomorrow’s generations – or how your communities stagnate and disappear. It is the choices you make for community investment. It is your world view, the way you view your neighbors, and how you want the world to view you.

This is what makes cultural development planning so challenging to do. It is why cultural development planning requires lots of diaglogue, lots of community input, a many divergent views. And it is why the goals and desired outcomes from cultural planning deserve a place in overall civic master plans. The cultural goals that we as communities can agree upon are too important not to be right up there in master plan documents. Coming to demographic agreement on civic cultural development priorities should be an essential task for every community, everywhere. Healthy culture isn’t someone else’s culture – the Gen X culture or the Western culture or the New York culture, etc. Heatlhy culture is about us, who we are as people and communities. Our own back yard.

Preparation for Cultural Planning

I’m often asked, “How to we get ready for cultural planning? What questions should we be asking? What homework can we do before we engage a consultant?”

Here are some of the questions I ask communities to explore before I come on site the first time. Try this as a good preparation for any cultural development, cultural district planning, or overall cultural planning.

Exploring Cultural Development
Preparation Questions

1. What are your community’s cultural assets? These may include any/all of the following:
a. Organizations
b. Civic offerings and services
c. Educational, school and youth focused programs, and life-long learning opportunities
d. Individual artists and crafts people
e. Creativity based businesses and enterprises
f. Heritage and historic assets
g. Festivals and celebrations
h. Facilities and sites

2. How do these currently support and further community health and well being?

3. Use a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) to describe the condition of the cultural assets. Include the financial conditions including financial assets, participation counts, geography or communities/neighborhoods served, facilities and other measurables in this.

4. Use a Gap Analysis to consider missing or limited cultural assets; use a GAP analysis to consider unmet community needs or population segments that aren’t reached by the cultural assets.

5. Create a vision statement for culture and the arts in your community. What is the completed or achieved vision like? How do people engage and benefit from arts and culture in the achieved vision? What tangible and intangible differences are there from the present cultural profile?

6. To achieve this vision, it is likely that many players will need to work together in partnership. What are the existing and prospective partnerships and alliances that can be developed working toward further developing your community’s cultural vitality? Who should be at the table?

Now that you have a sense of where you want to head (the vision), and who should be engaged, you can begin to shape the assessment (needs) and planning process. In preparation, think through the following:

1. What documents do you need to use as a foundation?
2. What community input process is necessary and important?
3. What kind of consulting assistance, if any, would benefit the planning process?

With this work completed, you’ll know what to seek in counsel. You’ll be able to engage in a cultural planning process that will win community enthusiasm and investment and gain significant outcomes!