Taxing situation for Playhouse


To the Editor:

Writing respectfully as treasurer of Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, I would like to make known to our thousands of audience members and many hundreds of generous patrons, that the Town of Tisbury has decided arbitrarily — and without offering us a hearing — to deny property tax exemption for our Playhouse.

This abrupt departure is announced despite our federal and state classification as a 501 (c) 3 charity since 1982 and our town-approved tax exempt status since we purchased the building in 1993. The assessors’ office informed us that we must pay our first installment on the property tax or forfeit any right of appeal. We have canvassed Massachusetts and can find no other theater being taxed like this. We struggle to make our annual budget, and this tax will inflict a large burden on us.

According to the assessor’s office letter, “the dominant purposes and activities (of a charitable organization) must benefit the public at large and not just a limited group of people.”

If individuals in the assessor’s office are unaware of MV Playhouse’s longstanding commitment to the welfare of all Tisbury and island residents and visitors, i.e. “the public at large,” let me describe some of our programs.

Our Patricia Neal Stage attracts thousands of Islanders and visitors every year with new and stimulating live drama. Our children’s programs include: Summer Stars Camp, Winter Stars after school Program, The Fabulists, Holiday Season plays. These involve hundreds of children in hands-on theatrical experiences. Our poetry, movie, theater salon evenings and Fish Tales events share generous cultural experiences with everybody. Our Shakespeare in the amphitheater in the summer and all-year play offerings vitalize the atmosphere and inspire civic pride. Our Art Space showcases new and established island artists. Our highly innovative Virginia’s Drama Club offers theatrical engagement for those with challenging mental and physical conditions. Furthermore, we feature reduced-rate tickets for island residents, and our “Shakespeare for the Masses” programs are free.

We are clearly an organization whose commitment is to the public.

Moreover, MV Playhouse, in close cooperation with the town, spearheaded the Vineyard Haven Harbor Cultural District effort. At the gateway to the William Street Historical District, we serve as a primary stop serving both districts. MV Playhouse attracts business to nearby restaurants, hotels and shops. As witness to this, the town posts signs up and down Main Street, making it plain that Vineyard Haven is registered as an official cultural district. Does the assessor’s Office consider these town-funded signs to be for the attention of “just a limited group of people?”

Our ticket sales cover only a third of our costs, and we pinch every penny in our budget to make the most of our donors’ generosity. To divert a significant portion of our budet directly to the town is wrong-headed, counter-productive, and defiant of the obvious: we serve the general public richly, and we have a national reputation for doing so.

In short, on behalf of MV Playhouse and also on behalf of “the public at large,” I protest this misguided attempt to grab funds from an organization that serves Tisbury in a vigilant and historically documented effort. We sustain fine performing arts on Martha’s Vineyard for everyone, and we are proud of our efforts. The Town of Tisbury has wisely and loyally supported us through the decades. Why this sudden and poorly considered gesture that is neither fair nor wise nor civic-minded?  

I cordially invite the individuals in the assessor’s office and their families to visit MV Playhouse and join “the public at large” in enjoying our many enriching and transformative programs.

Gerald P. Yukevich, M.D.
Treasurer, Board of Directors
Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse



  1. I’m confused. Are only certain people allowed to attend shows? This position by the assessors office is additionally troubling in that the Vineyard has the reputation off-island of supporting the performing arts.

  2. The idea of Taxing the Playhouse is about the most heartless decision that a town board could possibly do. Board Of Tisbury Assessors, where are your brains?

  3. You have selective reading and writing when it comes to this issue. It’s not all so simple and looks like there might be something in here for your review and digestion. While I hear your plight, it’s limited to a certain group of patrons. Not necessarily the public at large. I am not sure about the distribution of assets or income to it’s officers, directors or shareholders. So we don’t really have enough information to make a decision. It looks like the assessors office does.

    The board of assessors in each city or town is responsible for administering property tax exemptions. Exemptions are granted by the assessors according to Massachusetts law.

    • If the town suddenly found issue with a 25 year old exemption surely they could have found a
      way to mitigate the issue. No hearing, no discussion, no option for remedy other than a payment that gifts the right of appeal.

  4. I’m wondering just exactely what aspects of this wonderful Vineyard institution the “assessors” are assessing. What might merit this abrupt change of policy? Are details concerning their recent conclusions available to the general public? Or perhaps the town council might be able to shed some light on this unfortunate and perplexing turn of events.

  5. Tisbury pays 2 police chiefs, let alone all the other dead wood pointlessly pushing paper at the police department, so now they’ll gouge our beloved cultural institutions to pick up the slack.

    How about now, folks? NOW is Martha’s Vineyard increasingly martial AND entrenched police state a problem?

    Think about it: Access to a vibrant Arts community does MORE for the quality of life in our town than the underproductive lifers on the Tisbury police.

    R E G I O N A L I Z E.

  6. “BB”, nothing you write makes any sense. What part of registered 501c did not register? This is a charitable organization, not a for-profit like Trump Tower or Halliburton Corp. The facts are clear, the Town doesn’t care, and ought to be ashamed. Would they rather the Halls acquire the theater and board it up for a few decades?

    • Jimmy, you have no idea what Assessors do, how they’re separate, have their own board etc. Being a 501c3 does not give you tax exempt status from paying real estate taxes, there are other requirements one must meet in different organizations. Maybe they appeal it and win. Time will tell. Not at all bad if this is adjudicated.

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