Saturday, May 6, 2017

Supporting the Arts and Screwing the Artist.


If Maud Lewis were alive today she would be charged commercial property taxes.  Nice paintings, Maud, but that's a business you are running from your house.  What's that you say?  You only make $10 per painting?  So sorry, that's the way our tax legislation is written. Our hands are tied.

Now, I don't mean to suggest that Nova Scotia is not an arts friendly province because I see all three political parties tripping over each other to show who is more supportive of "the arts" and "creative industries." Unfortunately, in all this one upmanship nobody is talking about the artist.  See, Maud Lewis never would have fallen into the category of "the arts" and she certainly wouldn't have been a creative industry.  She  would have simply been  a woman making art out of her house.  Government might put her on a poster, but there would be no policy to actually make her life easier.

Today in Nova Scotia, anyone who uses a room in their house to run a business is subject to being taxed commercially.  There is zero connection to selling retail. Zero.  If you are a painter and sell only at galleries, you will be taxed commercially.  If you are a quilter that sells at the local farmers market you will be taxed commercially.  If you are a photographer that sells online you will be taxed commercially.  If you whittle wooden mermaids and sell your wares to stores you will be taxed commercially.  You will also be taxed commercially if you write children's stories, translate documents, have a consulting business, groom dogs, cut hair or teach piano.  If PVSC (the crown corporation that does property tax assessment in Nova Scotia) finds you then you will be taxed commercially.  How do they find you?  They find you if you try to do the right thing and apply for a development permit.  They find you by looking for advertisements and they find you if they come across your web site.  And they are looking. I know because I asked.

Artists, as a rule, do not make a lot of money.  My husband and I are both self-employed crafts people. Some of the most commonly used phrases in our house are: 'Do we have money for groceries?'  Should I fix this tooth or hope it lasts till next year?" "If I sell this hat I'm going to get glasses."  This is a sample of a day in the life and it's fairly typical of every artist I know.  We struggle to pay all our bills.  So, when I pay an additional $650/yr in property taxes because I use a room in my house to make hats it hurts. Paying this bill means not paying for something else.  When the town charges me commercial sewer rates on a room in my house that doesn't have any water, it hurts.  How are these policies supportive of the arts?  How can any province claim to support the arts when they don't support their artists?

This is not a difficult problem to solve.  Amend the tax legislation.  It was already done for Bed and Breakfast establishments.  The provincial tax legislation specifies that a Bed and Breakfast with four rooms or less is considered a residential property.  The same can be done for small home based businesses.  It can look like this:  Any house that uses less than 25% of the home, maximum 500 sq. ft., for the business is considered a residential property.  So easy...when there is a will to fix it.

The way the system works now benefits no one. Least of all the municipalities who collect the property taxes.  Who wins when a rule is avoided by the majority of the population?  Rules that are unreasonable are always avoided.  Nova Scotia is filled with home based businesses that are working at staying invisible.  Why not make a rule that is reasonable instead?  Imagine that municipalities charged $50 per year to operate a home based business?  In exchange the municipality lists all the home based businesses on the town web-site and creates a data base of local businesses. Next you promote your artisans with studio tours and you promote your town as a great place to run a home based business.  This might be very beneficial for towns in rural Nova Scotia with declining populations and declining property values.  Isn't having a family fix up a home and pay residential property taxes better than an abandoned home generating no tax revenue?  Nova Scotia is an ideal place to run a home based business and we need people, don't we?

Supporting the arts is important.  Supporting creative industries is important.  I don't want to diminish either of those objectives.  But the arts don't exist without artists.  Supporting artists begins at home.  Literally.


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