All I want for Christmas is My ... Tax Receipt

Do the arts community and the bottom line on your taxes some good with a contribution to one of Houston's non-profit arts organizations. Hurricane Ike really kicked some organizations in the pants; some are close to closing and others have all their plans on hold.

The sluggish economy means corporate sponsors are cutting their support, so it's up to individuals like us to pick up the slack. Now the fact that you can help keep the arts alive in Houston and you might get a tax deduction at the same time just happens to be a coincidence.

So, what can you do, right here, right now? Here are seven suggestions:

1. Buy the House
Empty seats mean death to performing arts companies, so buy a ticket, go to a show or concert. Or buy a ticket and don't go - donate the ticket back to the organization and they'll find someone who needs help covering admission costs to use your ticket. The music students at MECA (1700 Kane Street) are studying violin and piano; they'd love to see a symphony or jazz concert.

If you need a really big tax deduction, buy the house. Some theaters seat as few as 150 people. Buy up all 150 tickets (or a big chunk) and donate them back to the organization or invite 149 of your closest friends to see a show.

2. Take the Show on the Road
Young Audiences of Houston has actors, musicians and dancers that will go into the school of your choice and perform for the students. Send one artist in to perform for a classroom, or a whole company to perform for the entire school. Shows are available for Pre-K to 12th kids. Other organizations, like Kuumba House, have touring shows available for schools, parties or conferences.

3. Feed Me, Seymour
Got a catering company? Or maybe you just know your way around the deli section of your grocery store really well. Offer to provide food for an opening night reception or a board of directors meeting. DiverseWorks says they'd love some fudge or cookies for staff and artists' meetings. The less money the organization has to spend on things like food and wine for a reception, the more they can use to support the artists.

4. Color Me Blue
After-school art activities at your local library always need supplies like crayons, glue, construction paper and the ever popular glitter. Check with the children's librarian to see what they need.

5. Join Up
Most museums, including the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston offer memberships, sort of like a season pass. You get free admission, discounts at the gift shop, super-chic Members-Only previews and meet-and-greets with the artists. Oh, and a tax deduction.

6. What Are You Doing Today?
Volunteering your time doesn't mean a weekly four-hour gig for the rest of your life. Some organizations need help for just one day, like during a gala or staff retreat. No matter what you can do -- from answering phones to painting over graffiti or taking tickets at a show, somebody can use your help. Check with Volunteer Houston or your favorite arts organization for opportunities.

7. Go Shopping
This is probably the easiest way to support an organization, but sadly it isn't tax deductible: Go shopping. Museums have gift shops, theaters have t-shirts, music guilds have CDs. Buy something, why don't you?

-- Olivia Flores Alvarez

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