Save the Arts: A simple tax break can help save the arts

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The Independent Online
Today we are calling on the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, to use next month's Budget to help stop the crisis in the arts.

Our campaign, launched yesterday in the Independent on Sunday and continuing in The Independent, calls for a simple, but strikingly effective measure, and is already attracting the support of some of the arts' biggest names.

We want a change in taxation policy which would permit individuals to make simple tax free contributions to theatres, orchestras, museums and galleries. That simple incentive would immediately plug the gap left by falling Government funding.

In the United States this already happens. If you give to the arts in America your contribution is tax deductible. And the arts there benefit from a climate of giving.

Leading lights who have already signed up to our campaign include playwright Alan Ayckbourn, dancer Deborah Bull, director Sir Peter Hall and actresses Fiona Shaw and Harriet Walter.

The crisis in the arts has been graphically illustrated over the last few days. The annual arts council grant has been cut; the Bowes Museum in Durham has said it could have to sell off masterpieces by El Greco and others to prevent closure; Greenwich Theatre will have to close in the shadow of the pounds 750m millennium Dome.

The Halle Orchestra in Manchester has had to sell valuable instruments to survive; and visitor numbers have fallen by 15 per cent at the V&A Museum after it introduced compulsory admission charges because of inadequate funding.

Yet the Government deters individuals from helping their favourite arts companies and museums. The present system, which Gordon Brown must reform, is convoluted, complicated and contradictory. At the moment, if you give to a charity you get tax relief on your donations under the Gift Aid scheme which allows higher rate tax payers to claim back 17 per cent of the gross value of the gift, and the charity to claim back 23 per cent. But only some arts organisations are charities, others are not. Fifty per cent of museums are not, for example. If the arts organisation is not a charity, then there is no tax relief.

There is a further but. Tax relief under Gift Aid is given only on sums larger than pounds 250 - a deterrent to many arts lovers. In addition, if you benefit from your donation by, for example, getting reduced admission prices or even just being put on a priority mailing list, you may lose your tax relief. Added to this, Gift Aid forms are complicated and time consuming.

There is also an anomaly for people who want to give paintings to galleries. Tax relief is only applicable after death.

Tax expert David Oliver, a partner in Arthur Andersen, accountants, said: "The current state of the law is a complete mess. There's utter confusion. Over several generations we have developed layers of encrusted imbecility as regards tax and giving to the arts. It's time for a major overhaul."

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