A! Magazine for the Arts

Specialty License Plates Drive Arts Commission's Grant Funding

January 25, 2010

Editor's Note: Reprinted with permission from the Tennessee Arts Commission. This story was originally published in the Fall 2009 issue of Arts Tennessee.

Specialty license plates provide the primary source of funding for the Tennessee Arts Commission's grant programs. During tough economic times the sale of specialty plates becomes even more important.

With declining revenue for state governments across the country, arts agencies are facing some of the toughest economic times ever. Many are struggling for their very survival, while others are being downsized or placed under other departments.

The Tennessee Arts Commission has enjoyed record funding over the past 10 years thanks to a dedicated revenue source. Of the $7.6 million in grant funding for Fiscal Year 2010, $5.5 million came from the sale of collegiate/university, personalized, and specialty license plates -- license plates which Tennesseans voluntarily purchase each year.

According to Gov. Phil Bredesen, state funding to all agencies and departments will decrease in Fiscal Year 2011. Each agency has been directed to submit a FY2011 budget that reflects a nine percent decrease. With this decrease in funding, the sale and promotion of specialty license plates will become a critical component in future Arts Commission funding.

"During the current economic downturn, the value of the specialty license plate program cannot be stressed enough," says Rich Boyd, executive director of the Arts Commission. "In the early to mid-1990s Tennessee Arts Commission funding was extremely low as compared to other state arts agencies. Since that time funding has increased, and this is primarily due to the specialty license plate program."

According to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA), Tennessee currently ranks 19th out of the 50 states, with the state spending $1.52 per capita on the arts.

"Every state arts agency in the country would love to have a dedicated revenue source like this program," adds Boyd. "Other arts agencies are now seeking our advice on establishing a similar program in their state. Arts groups in Tennessee should never take the specialty license plate program for granted. The Commission encourages all arts supporters to get behind this program because these license plates have a substantial impact on arts funding in our state."

Specialty license plates are available through your local county clerk's office. Information is also available online: www.tennessee.gov/revenue/vehicle/licenseplates/specialty.htm