Here’s an interesting tidbit from Peterborough, New Hampshire, where town officials are challenging the nonprofit tax status of the venerable MacDowell Colony (here’s the AP story via CBS News, and here’s an update from the Keene Sentinal).
The Colony has been a famed retreat and work haven for more than 5500 artists since 1907 — like Aaron Copeland, who wrote parts of ”Appalachian Spring” while there, or Thornton Wilder, who used the town of Peterborough as his inspiration for Our Town. At issue are the property taxes the town loses by virtue of the Colony’s tax status. In a general review of area nonprofits, town selectmen decided that fostering the creative work of individual artists didn’t meet the requirements of tax exemption. Says the AP article:
State law defines a charitable organization as one that advances ”the spiritual, physical, intellectual, social or economic well-being of the general public or a substantial and indefinite segment of the general public that includes residents of the state of New Hampshire.”
The MacDowell Colony certainly benefits its artists-in-residence, but ”that doesn’t strike us as being the general public,” said Bob Derosier, one of the town’s lawyers.
”From what we understand, their primary purpose is nurturing artists of the highest merit,” he said.
It’s a fascinating and horrifying debate, striking to the core public value of cultural organizations. Is there public utility in giving visionary people a place to expand, explore, and express? We all better hope so.