What This County Needs: Art With...

When Eleanor Bay, president of the Anaheim Arts Council, was asked recently what she thought about supporting culture with fees charged hotel guests--revenue now being collected and spent on other city needs--she reacted as if queried whether it might not be smart for city councilmen to convert their paychecks into food stamps for pimps and drug dealers.

“We don’t do that!” Bay protested during a public meeting on the arts in Orange County. “I certainly would never go to our City Council and ask for a dime!”

The Anaheim Arts Council, which raised about $50,000 this year, is funded exclusively with private dollars; its officials obviously seem adamant about altering that approach.

But the “hotel bed tax” idea is one often used outside of Orange County that could help answer the familiar plea of “more money for the arts!” heard in the local arts community, as it is coast to coast.


In San Francisco, an 11% tax charged on hotel and motel bills generated more than $7 million for arts groups in 1989. In Anaheim, it is estimated that $25.5 million will be generated through a 10% hotel bed tax in the 1989-90 fiscal year, city officials say.

Another widely used method of arts support that could be used more in Orange County are the so-called “percent-for-art” programs. Though such programs may differ in detail, many impose a tax on new, non-residential development.

Los Angeles recently boosted its level of city arts support from about $4 million to about $25 million through the new Los Angeles Endowment for the Arts. About 75% of the cultural cash cow is expected to be raised through fees on municipal and private developments.

These funding arrangements are not totally unknown in Orange County: Brea requires that developers of all new residential, commercial and industrial projects worth more than $500,000 acquire and install one sculpture on their property. The program has produced 91 artworks in the last 14 years. And Costa Mesa’s new Tourism, Arts and Promotion Council, which could greatly increase money available for the arts, may be financed through a hotel bed tax. Irvine’s new Cultural Affairs Commission is investigating both support mechanisms.

More opportunities to investigate these options, at least, should grow as municipal arts agencies continue to proliferate in the next decade.