Minister told tax break will end crisis

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THE Government will be challenged tonight to help end the crisis in the arts by making all donations to the arts tax deductible - a change advocated in The Independent's campaign.

Mark Fisher, minister for the arts, will be one of the speakers at a special debate on arts funding organised by The Independent and The Royal Academy.

And he will be told by fellow panellist Peter Jenkinson, director of the New Art Gallery, Walsall, that the changes we want to be announced in next week's Budget would alleviate the crisis affecting many regional galleries.

Pointing to the exhibition Art Treasures of England, The Regional Collections, currently on show at the Royal Academy, Mr Jenkinson will say: "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, when everything has a price, 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."

Mr Fisher will speak for the Government in the debate, which will be held at the Royal Academy this evening.

He will be part of a panel that will include Jude Kelly, 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. The debate will be chaired by the broadcaster and arts writer Melvyn Bragg. Leading figures in the arts in the invited audience will include Phillip Hedley of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, Jennifer Edwards of the National Campaign for the Arts, Andreas Whittam Smith of the British Board of Film Classification and Jonathan Holloway, of Red Shift Theatre.

The Royal Academy of Arts and The Independent Forum on Government Funding of the Arts will look at 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.

A simple system could be brought in to replace the muddled and cumbersome system of tax relief through covenants and the Gift Aid Scheme.

This would massively increase the amount of money individuals give to the arts, and help end the financial crisis cultural institutions are facing.

The system is riddled with anomalies. Some arts organisations are charities, others are not.

Tax relief can only be claimed where the organisation is a charity. In addition tax relief can only be claimed on donations above pounds 250, a deterrent to many who would like to help the arts.