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Art groups may form arts council in response to LTAC funding

Representatives of local arts organizations may form an arts council to act as "an advocate and arbiter of artistic consideration" on the island.

The move is in response to the arts community's failure to win any grants this year from the Friday Harbor Lodging Tax Advisory Committee. On Oct. 16, the Town Council approved 4-0 the committee's annual allocation of proceeds from a 2 percent hotel-motel tax reserved for tourism promotion.

Of $110,000 allocated, the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau received $87,857.14. Next were the San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, $9,000; San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce promotion, $6,071.43; The Whale Museum, $4,500; and the San Juan Historical Museum, $2,571.43.

Funding requests not granted: Artist Studio Tour, $2,500; Artstock, $1,000; Centennial Mural Project, $25,000; and Westcott Bay Institute/Island Museum of Art, $22,475.

Lodging Tax Advisory Committee members are Carrie Brooks, Town Council member; David Pass, Harrison House B&B and Tucker House B&B; Lori Petersen, Friday Harbor Center; Laura Saccio, Bird Rock Hotel and Earthbox Motel & Spa; Jim Smith, Discovery Inn; Chris Wolf, Town Council member; and Greg Zervas, Hillside House B&B.

Last winter, the LTAC changed the system it uses to score grant requests. Using the new scoring system, the visitors bureau received top scores from all members except Wolf, who gave a higher score to The Whale Museum and the Historical Museum. Wolf ranked the visitors bureau request third.

Zervas and Petersen each gave the visitors bureau's proposal and the two chamber of commerce proposals 55 points. All told, the visitors bureau's proposal topped all others with 355 points. Funding was then recommended based on points received.

Arts advocates decried the final vote, arguing that the arts are a major tourism draw — the intent of the 2 percent lodging tax.

"It's a proven fact that art can revive a town or city," Nina Pellar Le Baron, Westcott Bay Institute president, wrote in a message to supporters. "Arts and culture travelers spend far more than other visitors and stay longer at the destinations they travel to. Becoming a lure for travelers seeking culture can be the economic incentive this town will need to help keep its economy going."

She concluded, "The visual arts are a critical part of the attractions of the island."

In a letter to the editor, Wayne and Elena Thoms of San Juan Drive asked the LTAC to reconsider its decision "to withhold lodging tax funds" from non-profit arts organizations.

"The arts are an integral part of island life and are enjoyed by islanders and visitors alike," they wrote. "We are a small island that attracts visitors from around the world and the funds collected from these visitors should be distributed fairly among all the non-profit organizations."

Victoria Compton, executive director of Westcott Bay Institute and the Island Museum of Art, added, "People tend to trivialize artistic endeavors. I'm not sure this was a case of that, but I think the qualifications they used to weigh the proposals weren't thought out with an eye toward anything in the arts."

But Saccio said she believes funded proposals should be broader in their promotional impact, and not specific to arts, entertainment or other single area. She recommends future grant applicants look at the grant guidelines.

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