In Mexico, artists pay taxes with paintings
The government of Mexico has accepted work from artists in lieu of income tax since 1957, and it's resulted in a collection of over 4,000 works.
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It's tax day, and many Americans may be scrambling to file their taxes and fork over a chunk of money to the federal government. But imagine if, instead of paying taxes in the form of money, you could give the government a piece of art. That's the arrangement in Mexico, where the government has been allowing artists to offer pieces of art instead of paying income tax since 1957. It's resulted in a masterful art collection housed and displayed in Mexico City.
According to Julian Zugazagoitia, the director of El Museo del Barrio in New York City, the program came about in the 50s, when an artist faced jail time for failing to pay his taxes. David Alfaro Siqueiros, the great Mexican muralist, and another painter came to the artist's rescue and petitioned the government for amnesty. They suggested the government accept art in lieu of what the artist owed in taxes.
"And little by little, the program got started," explained Zugazagoitia. "Today, Mexico's Ministry of Finance and Public Credit owns more than 4,000 works of art by that kind of system."
Mexican artist Pablo Vargas Lugo considers it part of his contribution as an artist. "I try to give stuff that is good work and representative of what I'm doing in any given year ... it's part of my system of work. I know that I have to give so many pieces every year to this program."
As a result, the Mexican government's collection includes masterpieces by greats like Diego Rivera and Leonora Carrington.
There is a currently a movement to try a similar program in the United States. Zugazagoitia and other art administrators are talking to legislators to get a program put in place. He says such a program would enrich American arts institutions and give artists a way to actively contribute to the art world.
"The US has always been in the forefront of philanthropy, but for once Mexico has a very good example that I think would be interesting to replicate here," said Zugazagoitia.
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