Thanks to license plates, TN public funding of arts avoids big cuts

In Tennessee, specialty license plate sales account for almost two-thirds of public funding for the arts handed out year year by the Tennessee Arts Commission, according to The Tennessean. And there’s now a new who won a statewide competition.

Using plate revenue is just one way that states fund the arts, and Tennessee has done it better than all the others, bringing in about twice as much money in recent years as second-place California. Sales of specialty plates have brought in more than $4.5 million for the arts commission in each of the past four years. That money created 900 grants in 85 counties last year, for everything from school programs to performance troupes to public art projects.

…When Haines realized the role of the tags, she had good reason to shamelessly promote her own design.

“I even printed out my own little business cards, with the plate on it, where I could hand them out,” she said.

Arts commission leaders like it, too. They’re banking on the design to inject new energy into the plate program to make up for declining income from other sources, including the National Endowment for the Arts.

…Although the plate funding model has been in place since the 1980s, the government funding climate has made tag revenue as important as ever.

The debut of Haines’ design this year marks the first new arts plate in more than a decade. The three earlier arts plates, featuring a fish, a cat and a rainbow, will continue to be available.

But the arts plates aren’t the only ones that benefit creative types in Tennessee.
For an extra $35, almost 100 specialty plates are available. The arts plates send 90 percent of that $35 to the arts commission. A smaller portion of sales from dozens of other plates — 40 percent — also benefit the arts.