As income tax filing deadlines approach across North America, many Mexican artists will be counting canvases instead of pay stubs. In Mexico, a country that has lost over $870 billion to tax evasion and money laundering, hundreds of artists aren’t required to pay a dime in tax. Instead, they pay the government with artwork.
For decades the federal Mexican government has allowed artists to take part in their Pago en Especie (Payment in Kind) program, which allows them to pay their federal income taxes with their own artwork.
For artists in the program, tax math is incredibly simple. If they sell five or fewer works of art in the fiscal year, they give one to the Mexican government. If they sell between six and eight works, they give two. Between nine and eleven, it’s three, and so on. If an artist sells more than twenty works they hand over six to the feds, which is the maximum amount.
The government places the most outstanding work into their “National Heritage Collection” on display in Mexico City, while other pieces are placed in public museums and government buildings across the country.
The Mexican program is the only one of its kind in the world, and was designed to promote artistic values and “enrich the cultural heritage of the nation.” It has somehow managed to survive since its humble beginnings in the 1950s:
The program was hatched in 1957, in the throes of the so-called “Mexican Miracle,” a period of 40 years that saw sustained annual economic growth of between 3 and 4 percent. As legend has it, muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, one of the most influential artists of his generation, approached the secretariat of finance in 1957 with a proposal to keep a friend and fellow artist out of jail for tax evasion: Let him pay his debt in art. The agreement laid the foundation for Pago en Especie, which today is a public collection of nearly 7,000 paintings, sculptures, and graphics accepted as tax payments from some of Mexico’s best-known artists.
The program seems to work in Mexico, with little fanfare or controversy. Any move to adopt a similar program in Canada or the United States, however, would likely be fraught with controversy and neoconservative outrage.
Would you welcome a move by your government to accept art as a form of income tax payment?
In Mexico, Artists Can Pay Taxes With Artwork | The Atlantic
Image: Diego Rivera’s mural depicting Mexico’s history at the National Palace in Mexico City.