Sen. Sheehan, Locals Pushing for Wickford Art District

A new piece of legislation would turn Wickford into a tax-exempt arts district.


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.





NK Parent May 11, 2012 at 01:53 PM
I think this is a good idea for the area as well. Keeping the art scene active in Wickford is important to the longterm vitality of the village.
This is such a no-brainer... tax free communities for artists attract artists to rent their property/studio space there because if you create your art in the tax free zone or sell it in a tax free zone it is not taxed. This saves a lot of money for the artists and eliminates alot of the hassel created in bookkeeping and throwing money away on taxes. Artists need to be freed up to be creative. It's hard enough for them to make ends meet and for the galleries who sell their work to do the same why are you making it even more difficult? And let's face it, a community that encourages the arts will also benefit by having those artists eat in their restaurants and collaborating with them on projects which enhance the beauty and charm of the community which in turn draws in visitors. This could have far reaching benefits for all. Other communities have this advantage why should we be denied the same rights that others enjoy? Kudo's to State Senator James Sheehan for upholding our cause and to State Rep. Larry Ehrhardt who did so before in his service to our community. To those in leadership over our state who think we can't afford to become tax free because you need the tax money for your other projects let me say this; You can't afford not to do this. Look at the statistics of what happens in the communities that have the tax free zone and how it benefits the economy. The facts do not lie.
OrangesPoranges May 11, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Please, please let it happen and include the condominium community, Hamilton Harbour in the tax-free zone. These loft condos in historic mill buildings are very attractive to artists because of the light and natural surroundings, but the current property tax structure is deterring sales.
Govstench May 12, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Everything in this article screams tax reform. Just look at "tumbleweed alley" (Post Road) and all those closed down businesses. Taxes again. When you have no economy to speak of, you have to look at what is putting the brakes on moving this economy forward. Taxes. The state and municipalities are spending way too much money and that has to end. It has to match up what people can afford. The give-aways, special interest programs, all have to go. We are living in a bare-bones economy and everyone has to learn to live and work with less. It's that simple.
Lynn Krim May 13, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Those of us the Shady Lea Mill are wondering why we were not allowed the opportunity to participate on this legislation. We are located in North Kingstown, at the junction of Rte 1&4 and have over 40 artists and artisans in residence. In the past we worked with other senators trying to get this done and I have spoken to members of the NK Arts Council about making this happen. You are absolutely right. This benefits all businesses in the area. Please direct us as to how we can become involved. Thank you


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