State legislatures use a variety of mechanisms to supplement general funds for state arts agencies. For information on these mechanisms, see NASAA’s Dedicated Revenue Strategies Policy Brief. One revenue source used by a number of states is generated by the sale of specialty arts license plates—decorative vehicle license plates with arts messages. For example, California’s iconic Coastline specialty plate was designed by California artist Wayne Thiebaud in 1993. These plates generate revenue for state arts agencies and their constituents through a fee in addition to the regular state licensing fee. Currently, 16 states (Alabama, Alaska, California, Florida, Hawai’i, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia) have arts license plates.
Typically, each specialty plate contributes between $5 and $30 to the arts agency via a fee that is levied in addition to the normal license fee. In fiscal year 2022, license plate fees added more than $10 million to state arts agency funds. This supplemental income generally is applied to state arts programming, though Indiana uses the income to build its state cultural trust and Florida uses the funds to support arts organizations in each of its counties. In addition to providing revenue, specialty plates can serve as an advocacy tool by raising the visibility of the agency or the arts in general. For instance, the Alaska State Council on the Arts used the opportunity to hold a statewide competition to select a plate design and engage public officials and constituents across the state.
License plate programs can be difficult to forge, and have their drawbacks. State officials are often concerned about the cost of designing a plate if the demand is low. The cost of designing a plate can cost from $6,000 to $20,000, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). As a result, before they will approve a new plate, many states require an interest group to get signatures for plate support or to cover the manufacturing costs.
One of the largest difficulties associated with specialty plates is their ever-increasing availability from all types of groups. According to the NCSL, 52 states have more than 5,000 unique specialty plates, and several states, including Texas, Pennsylvania and Maryland, have more than 400. The availability of plates of all types can make it difficult for arts license plates to thrive. Additionally, the administration and collection of revenues for specialty plates, regardless of type, has been problematic in a few states. Despite these challenges, a number states have made specialty plate sales a viable source of supplemental funding for the arts.
|How Plate Generates Funds for SAA||Funds Go Toward|
|Alabama||1996||$50 fee minus the state administrative cost, split between the arts council and two education bureaus||Arts education and local arts programming|
|Alaska||2016||Approximately $33 of the $50 new arts plate fee goes to the SAA||Artistic and cultural programming; advancing creative industries|
|California||1994||Approximately $35 of the $50 new arts plate fee goes to the SAA; renewals of $40 all go to the SAA||Arts education and local arts programming|
|Florida||1994||Arts organizations receive $20 per plate sold||One qualified arts organization in each county, to support arts activities|
|Hawaiʻi||2001||Hawaiʻi Arts Alliance receives $20 per new plate and per renewal||Arts education and advocacy; arts-based community building|
|Indiana||1998||SAA’s trust fund receives $25 per plate sold||State cultural trust|
|Kansas||1998||SAA receives entire annual fee of $50 per plate||Local arts programming|
|Nebraska||2021||$30 goes to the Support the Arts Cash Fund, and the special fund receives $5 per alapha/numeric plate per new plate and per renewal. A portion of fees goes to Nebraska Arts Council.||Arts and cultural community development and creative district grants|
|Nevada||2000||Arts education programs receive $15 per new plate and $10 per plate renewal||Nevada Arts Council’s Arts in Education program and statewide activities of VSA arts of Nevada|
|New Hampshire||1998||SAA receives some project funds from multi-agency conservation plate||Conservation projects|
|New York||1999||SAA receives $15 per plate sold||Arts grant making and programming|
|Oregon||2001||SAA trust fund receives $30 per plate sold||State cultural trust|
|South Carolina||2005||SAA receives $60 for each plate sold||Arts education and general operating support for arts organizations|
|Tennessee||1994||SAA receives $30.75 for every specialty plate sold||General operating support grants; arts in education activities|
|Texas||1993||SAA receives $22 per plate sold||Arts and cultural programs, and to raise awareness of the cultural fund|
|Virginia||1996||Special fund for SAA receives $15 per plate sold||Local arts and community programming|