More than a half dozen Rhode Island cities and towns host a tax-free art district, where artists and galleries are exempt from state sales tax. Despite the various art galleries, local artists and , North Kingstown is not one of them.
State Senator James Sheehan (D-Dist. 36) is once again supporting a bill that would create a tax-free, art district zone for Wickford Village and the surrounding area. The legislation would remove the state sales tax on goods and works produced and sold in Wickford. If passed, the Wickford art district would include the village and areas along Route 102 (Ten Rod Road) as well as the Rodman Mill Pond area.
“Wickford has a brand, and that brand is art,” said Sheehan. “I think this is such a great match for Wickford that it’d be a shame if we couldn’t get this passed.”
It’s not the first time that this legislation has made it to the General Assembly, as State Rep. Larry Ehrhardt tried several years ago before Sheehan’s first attempt three years ago. According to Sheehan, the bill was not able to gain traction. With the struggling economy, Sheehan believes it is more pivotal now than ever before to pass the legislation.
“Wickford has not only suffered in the recession, but suffered from the business center of gravity shifting westward to Route 2,” said Sheehan. Sheehan also argues that the lost revenue from these taxes would be offest by the additional business it will bring into not only Wickford but the state.
Wickford’s artists, gallery owners and many residents are backing the bill, looking at it as an opportunity to attract more consumers to the historic village. Ellen Waxman, gallery owner of Five Main, views the legislation as “leveling the playing field.”
“It puts Wickford galleries at such a disadvantage when someone can go to a gallery in Newport and a get similar piece from the same artist that’s tax free,” said Waxman.
An arts district could also bring a “mature, moneyed clientele,” Waxman adds, that would bring business to other merchants in the village.
“Someone can come from out of state to a gallery and then maybe they’d stay for lunch or even do more shopping in Wickford,” said Waxman.
Support for the measure isn’t limited to local artists and gallery owners, however: a few weeks ago, nine-year WIckford resident David Pratt appeared – along with Waxman, Sheehan and Pamela Reed of the Wickford Art Association – spoke at the State House to support the creation of an art district in the village.
“We really have a nucleus of art here and artists and galleries make very good neighbors,” said Pratt. “They don’t pollute. They don’t attract motorcycle gangs. There’s a minimal septic footprint and it raises property values.”
Pratt adds that Wickford’s current landscape and support of the arts makes it an ideal spot for the art district.
“We don’t have to plant the seed – all we have to do is add a little fertilizer,” said Pratt.
Various Wickford businesses and galleries have petitions available for those who wish to support the legislation. Sheehan and others are also encouraging residents to send correspondence to Senate Finance Committee Chair Senator Daniel Daponte and Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva-Weed.