By Jennifer Learn-Andes, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
Luzerne County should have a board to help arts and culture flourish, local arts supporter Howard Grossman told county council this week.
“I’m not asking for funds, just some type of advisory board that would be useful to use as members of county council and certainly to the arts organizations of this county,” Grossman said during a presentation at a council work session. “Those kinds of art councils are important at the county level.”
Many counties in the state have county-level efforts aimed at the arts, said Grossman, who is active with the Wyoming Valley Art League and other initiatives.
The request is timely because efforts are underway to create an arts district in the area of South Franklin and South Main streets in downtown Wilkes-Barre, he said.
This zone is a focus, he said, because several arts and cultural venues are now open there, including the Wyoming Valley Art League’s Circle Centre for the Arts, Marquis Art & Frame’s Second Floor Gallery and Wilkes University’s Sordoni Art Gallery.
Groups in the Back Mountain, Hazleton, Pittston and other areas also are attempting to include arts and culture in their economic development and quality-of-life initiatives, he said, noting the county has numerous nonprofit organizations “deeply involved with the arts community.”
“Across the country, downtown revitalization has been stimulated by having an arts focus,” said Grossman. “I think the arts change the image of any community.”
Pennsylvania’s art community is a $1.8 billion industry statewide, generating more than 100,000 jobs, he said.
Allegheny County in the Pittsburgh area obtained special state legislative authority to impose an additional 1 percent sales tax to support cultural organizations and institutions, a stadium and arena, Grossman told council.
Neighboring Lackawanna County has an Office of Arts and Culture that supports programs for people of all ages and provides services and grants to artists and arts organizations, according to Grossman and the county’s website.
Luzerne County Council Vice Chairman Eugene Kelleher said he will discuss the idea of creating an advisory board at an upcoming council committee meeting.
Rethinking hotel tax
Councilman Stephen A. Urban also encouraged Grossman to push state legislators to reallocate a portion of the hotel tax earmarked for the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township to free up more funding for arts and cultural programs.
The hotel tax is 11 percent here. The state charges 6 percent, and another 5 percent was tacked on in the county in 1996 solely to help fund county tourism and the arena.
The arena receives 80 percent, which amounted to $2.29 million in 2017, county records show. In comparison, the arena was paid $1.03 million in 1997, the first full year of collection.
Collections have increased as more hotels were built in the county, officials said. Fifty-three lodging facilities paid the tax in 1997, and there are 60 today, they noted.
Urban said the arena has “done a lot of good for the area” but should not continue receiving “excess funding.”