Rick Steves donating $1 million in ‘Bush tax cuts’ to Edmonds arts center

EDMONDS — Travel TV host and publisher Rick Steves is giving $1 million to the Edmonds Center for the Arts, and he’s making a political statement in doing so.

Steves said Thursday his donation equals what he saved from the tax cuts approved by former President George W. Bush beginning in 2001.

“Over the last decade, my tax burden has decreased even as public funding for important local programs and institutions has been decimated — a trend I find alarming,” he said in a written statement.

Steves is encouraging other people who are financially well off to make similar donations.

“It’s my hope to inspire other caring high-income people to step up and fill those funding gaps with private donations, to support causes that should be borne collectively by a community — arts centers, parks, schools, libraries, local symphonies, and to speak out on the wisdom of rolling back the tax cuts for our wealthy.”

The donation to the arts center will be divided into 10 annual gifts of $100,000, said Joe McIalwain, executive director for the Center for the Arts.

“We are extremely grateful,” he said.

Between $15,000 and $20,000 per year will go to cover the rent at the center for the Cascade Symphony Orchestra, a community symphony, for the next 10 years. The orchestra, marking its 50th anniversary, plays several shows a year at the arts center’s auditorium at 410 Fourth Ave. N.

Another $12,000 a year will cover rent for travel seminars held at the auditorium by Steves’ business, Europe Through the Back Door.

The remaining $50,000 to $60,000 per year will go toward running the arts center and meeting its annual budget of $1.2 million, McIalwain said.

The center pays its bills through donations, ticket sales and rental income, McIalwain said.

“This is a tremendous boon to us,” he said.

The center also provides a venue for national acts — upcoming shows include Lily Tomlin and Christopher Cross — as well as local acts such as the orchestra and the Olympic Ballet Theater.

By helping cover the center’s day-to-day operations, the donation will help the organization focus more on long-range planning, McIalwain said.

During Steves’ childhood, his father’s piano store on Main Street in Edmonds supplied the Cascade Symphony Orchestra with German-made concert grand pianos, according to the statement from his office.

Steves taught piano lessons in his father’s store to pay for his early European travels, and he held his first travel classes in his piano teaching studio.

“I see it as a civic duty for businessmen like me, who’s directly benefited from our vibrant communities, to do our fair share,” Steves said. “This donation is my way of helping to empower the fine people who’ve been working for years for the good of Edmonds’ art and culture — especially now, as what I consider a false austerity is being forced on the finer points of our culture.”

The Bush tax cuts, which applied to all income brackets, were set to expire in 2010 but after much debate were extended for two more years. President Barack Obama campaigned in 2008 on removing the cuts for people making more than $250,000 per year but backed off in the face of opposition from Congress.

Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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