How Tennessee Car Dealers Could Help Fund The Arts

The cost of a specialty tag in Tennessee is $35 more than a standard-issue one. In almost every case, either 40 or 80% of that fee is designated for the Tennessee Arts Commission, and specifically must be spent on grants to artists and arts organizations in the state. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN

The cost of a specialty tag in Tennessee is $35 more than a standard-issue one. In almost every case, either 40 or 80% of that fee is designated for the Tennessee Arts Commission, and specifically must be spent on grants to artists and arts organizations in the state. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN

License plates fund hundreds of grants to artists around the state each year. And while arts grants are one of the first things trimmed in state budget cuts, car tags provide a revenue stream that isn’t subject to the shifting political climate.

Now the Tennessee commission is looking to see how much more can be gained from involving a particular kind of sales professional: car dealers.

Just about every specialty license plate issued in Tennessee benefits the arts. Whether it trumpets support for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital or small mouth bass fishing, the extra cost of a specialty tag is almost always split between whatever organization is on the plate and the Tennessee Arts Commission.

This fall, the arts commission decided to see if it could beef up orders with a pilot program targeting new car buyers. Every independent auto dealer in Knoxville agreed to talk up the tags to their customers.

Shannon Harper is Vice President of Harper Porsche, Audi and Jaguar. He says the tags actually fit in nicely with the more traditional kinds of add-ons and customized features his dealership has always sold.

“You know a lot of customers like to show support for, you know, if you’re a Vanderbilt fan they can buy the Vanderbilt tags. It’s nice individualization for your cars.”

Harper says about 10 percent of his buyers opted for some kind of specialty plate.

While the pilot program officially finished in November, Harper says his employees never stopped talking to customers about the tags. The Arts Commission is currently planning to ask dealers all over the state to do the same, and may devise some sort of prize for the salesperson who signs up the most customers.


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