The Other Columbus: The broken heart of the art tax

Scott Woods
Photo of August GCAC panel at the Vanderelli Room

A couple of New Jersey Democratic Senate leaders recently put in some overtime to present a bill that would have installed gerrymandered districts into the state constitution. This case is notable because Republicans are the typical poster children for voter-suppressing tactics like this. The senators were rightly dragged by everyone except their own kids for stooping below a generally acceptable level of politicking, and in turn had opportunity to rethink how they spend their weekends.

Watching that unfold made me break my silence on the Columbus art tax proposal. Again.

No one who knows me would suggest I'm anti-art. A significant part of my livelihood comes from the arts. Painting critics of the tax as anti-art or, as I read, “Trumpian,” isn't only disingenuous; it isn't true. I wrote several public statements criticizing the original version of the tax. My biggest beef with it wasn't that it was a tax or that I hate art. I wasn't even entirely against it being passed solely through City Council. The problem was that elements of it went against the will of the people.

City Council has since improved the proposal to make it less draconian. The tax was split into two taxes, each of which feed the Greater Columbus Arts Council's mission. There will be a 5 percent event tax that goes to GCAC, and a separate tax on Nationwide Arena events, of which the arena will keep the lion's share, with a portion also going toward arts funding. This is the proposal that should have come out the gate. It wasn't, and while things have changed, something needs to be said before anybody carries anyone else over the threshold.

What was proposed was being sold as the way it had to be done — the best and only course of action. Every angle was used in an attempt to sell it to side-eyeing artists, organizations and businesses. It was a course that ran counter to repeated votes against funding the Nationwide Arena. That supporters of the tax were willing to sacrifice the will of the people to get what they wanted is something we expect from certain political quarters, not from our cultural institutions. If our city has a heart, they are responsible for a chamber of it, so I expect more from them.

We should all keep in mind how close things came to going straight Machiavellian. People aren't supposed to come second to the way things should be done in their interest. To ignore the will of the people is, in fact, Trumpian. There should be a level below which we do not dip in the name of building the best city, especially if the goal is to expand the resources of its culture.