The Block Island Times

State Rep. Walsh seeks tax exempt status for R.I.-made art

By Judy Tierney | May 16, 2013
Photo by: Kari Curtis Island artist Jessie Edwards supports the tax exemption.

State Rep. Donna Walsh wants to make some works of art created in Rhode Island exempt from the state’s 7 percent sales tax.

Walsh has introduced a bill, H5844, to accomplish that goal.

Several communities, such as Westerly and Newport, already enjoy this exemption as special art communities. Walsh’s bill would extend the expemption across the entire state, including Block Island.

The bill would create a tax exempt status for limited and creative works, including books, paintings, prints and photos, sculpture, traditional and fine crafts, films and actors in films, dance and dance performances, plays and musical compositions and their performances. Works for industry or a commercial production would still be taxable.

Walsh considers this an economic development bill, though it has not been included in the package of development bills before the legislature. “It can set Rhode Island apart,” she said, as other states do not focus on the arts. The representative also sees it as a fairness issue for artists who do not reside in the current tax free zones.

Block Island artist Marilyn Bogdanffy said she knew Newport had the tax free status. She recalled that, several years ago, a group of artists on Block Island had tried to get that legislation passed for the island also but were not successful. “It would be good or us,” Bogdanffy said. “It would be good for the galleries and good for the artists. Art is not something people have to have.”

Jessie Edwards, who has her own studio here, thinks the tax exemption would be “great.” She said, “It will make people want to come to Block Island for art. Art goes hand-in-hand with conservation and the natural beauty of the island. Galleries are closing all the time. It’s going to be fantastic.”

Another artist in favor of the bill, Neil Lang, said, “It is a way to promote art sales and appreciate art.”

One artist is not so certain the tax exemption would help him. Photographer Malcolm Greenaway, who operates a gallery on Water Street, said it might even hurt his business. “[My customers] don’t have to pay sales tax” if they ship out of state, Greenaway said. He felt that the bargain of not paying the state tax will be lost if his customers start to focus on the shipping costs they will have to pay. Greenaway felt the tax system as it stands now balanced itself out.

The bill, H5844, has been heard in committee and is being held pending further study.

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