Louisiana's Cultural Districts thriving

LA's Cultural Districts thriving

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Offering tax exemptions on original artwork Louisiana's Cultural District Program has taken off.

"There was $6,000,000 in tax exempt art that was sold in 2010 in Louisiana," said Gaye Hamilton, LA Cultural District Program Coordinator.

According to Hamilton since the program began in 2008 it has had overwhelming popularity and is now up to 59 districts in 34 cities and towns across the state.

"So many communities are seeing this as a way to add another set of tools to their existing plans on how they are going to revitalize their downtown and build a stronger economy - that's what everything is based on," said Hamilton. "Louisiana is actually serving as a model for other states. I get calls all the time from people wanting to know how we got the Legislature to agree to no sales tax on original artwork. They want to know all about our success."

Those same businesses sold more than a billion dollars in gross sales last year - proving the tax exemption is a small price to pay. Southwest Louisiana has four cultural districts: One in Welsh, Downtown DeRidder, and two in Lake Charles - Cottage Shops and Charlestown Districts.

"It's helped both businesses retain clients as well as sale more volume of artwork and we've seen just in the last year and a half the Charlestown district for instance, business are growing there and so it is helping recruit business to the area and make downtown a walking traffic destination," said Matt Young, Arts & Humanities Council Executive Director.

It's a win-win situation for artists and the businesses.

"It's a lot of money and savings for the people who come there to buy our work," said Anne Dentler, Associated Louisiana Artists Gallery By The Lake and Creative Arts Center.

"It helps bring in new business, new people come into the shop who have never been there before and it really improves the atmosphere," said Valerie Smith, Stellar Beans owner.

The cultural districts are also included in the tax credit program for historical restoration. Dentler was able to not only renovate but expand her business with big savings.

"I added on and renovated and my building more than doubled its size and created the Creative Arts Center which is a state of the art workshop area for any type of art," explained Dentler.

But to keep it all going they encourage Southwest Louisiana to take advantage of the tax exemption and shop local.

"They can buy the art here. They don't have to go to New York, Houston or New Orleans. We have award-winning artists right here in Lake Charles," said Smith.

Within the next calendar year they hope to work with the Office of Tourism and put together a map highlighting the cultural trail of districts throughout the state.