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Longview arts, culture commission doles out $250K in grants

By Sherry Koonce skoonce@news-journal.com
Sept. 27, 2012 at 11 p.m.


Funding for local arts was confirmed Thursday night among six nonprofit groups dedicated to bringing culture to Longview.

The groups were named recipients of 2012-13 arts and culture grants for projects designed to not only attract tourists to Longview, but to promote the city as a cultural destination.

This year's awards, totaling $250,500 derived from hotel/motel occupancy tax revenue, was awarded by the City Council to the Gregg County Historical Museum, Longview Symphony League Inc., Longview Museum of Fine Arts, Arts View, East Texas Symphonic Band and Longview Ballet.

Council members approved the recipients Thursday at the recommendation of the city's Cultural Activities Advisory Commission.

This year's six recipients requested a collective $386,394 to fund a total of 26 projects. The total funds requested for 2012-13 were down $224,036 from the previous year when 10 arts and culture groups vied for a share of $247,999.

Tammy Smith, president of East Texas Music and Theater Company, formerly Opera of East Texas, said the nonprofit group did not apply for funding this year because the group's new format no longer fits the criteria for arts and culture grants.

Instead of bringing large acts to Longview, the music and theatre group is concentrating on smaller acts performing in smaller venues, such as private residences.

The Longview alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. also chose not to apply this year because of funding criteria.

President Akiko Jones said the organization is not hosting its ART (Actively Redefining Together) program this year. Instead, the organization will focus on Delta Sigma Theta Sorority national centennial events, as well as the local group's 40th anniversary.

"We will be spending a lot of time and effort on those events, and they do not qualify for funding, but we will be getting back to the reading program next year and making an application then," Jones said.

Other groups not submitting applications this year include Longview World of Wonders and East Texas Ballroom Dance.

The city devotes 15 percent of its annual hotel tax revenue to local arts and cultural groups. Not included in the funding pool are the added collections for improvements to the Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center.

In June, the city began collecting the additional tax money after voters approved an increase in the tax paid on an overnight hotel stay from 7 percent to 9 percent.

City spokesman Shawn Hara said the money collected through the tax increase will be set aside for improvements associated with the Maude Cobb complex, and cannot be used for other purposes such as arts grants.

The bill gained state approval in 2011, and collections began a year later.

Since June, the city has collected an additional $118,427 in hotel taxes. Hara said. The funding change, which required state approval, was initially intended to pay for a new events center.

Mayor Jay Dean, who was out of town Thursday, said in a telephone interview that city officials have put the events center on the back burner but have discussed using the money for improvements at Maude Cobb.

"The events center is something that is still on the radar, but not high on the priority list today," Dean said.

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