America shows way to win cash from rich donors

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Donations to the arts will multiply many times if the Chancellor makes all donations tax deductible in his budget, the secretary of the Royal Academy said last night.

Speaking at a special debate on arts funding mounted by The Independent Save the Arts campaign and the Royal Academy, David Gordon urged that "the arts need to campaign with facts and analysis as well as with passion".

Giving a lead on this, he made a detailed comparison with the American system, where all arts organisations are charities. "Americans have a specific section on their tax return," he said. "Donations to charities are itemised in this section and deducted from the income on which tax is paid. Each dollar given reduces the tax bill. This is called itemisation. Very simple, very effective, and as a result two thirds of personal giving is itemised ...

"American individuals gave $120bn or pounds 75bn to charities in 1996. This is equivalent to pounds 280 for every man, woman and child. Individuals in Britain gave pounds 4.3bn to charities, or about pounds 70 for every man, woman and child ... Simplifying giving will lead to much greater giving."

The Royal Academy of Arts and The Independent Forum on Government Funding of the Arts examined the future of arts funding in Britain, following The Independent and Independent on Sunday campaign urging the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, to make all donations to the arts tax deductible in the forthcoming budget.

We are urging Mr Brown to use his budget to introduce a change in taxation law to enable people to make tax-free donations to arts companies and venues. A simple system could be brought in to replace the muddled and cumbersome system of tax relief through covenants and the Gift Aid Scheme.

Last night's panel included Jude Kelly, the artistic director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse; Genista McIntosh, executive director of the National Theatre, David Gordon, secretary of the Royal Academy and Peter Jenkinson of the New Art Gallery, Walsall.

Mr Jenkinson made reference to the exhibition Art Treasures of England, the Regional Collections, on show at the Royal Academy. He said: "We should pause to reflect upon the enormous generosity of former generations who enable us to enjoy what we see on the walls today. In the mean-spirited 1990s ... a reminder of such public-spiritedness in such huge proportions is refreshing to witness.

"Public spiritedness toward the arts today will be hugely encouraged by the incentive that all contributions should be tax deductible. People want to support their favourite galleries and other arts institutions. They should be supported in this wish, not discouraged from doing so."