CHARLESTON, W.Va.– Members of the National Council on the Arts praised West Virginia on Friday for the artistic displays it has to offer residents and visitors alike.

Representative Evan Jenkins speaks at the June 2018 National Council on the Arts meeting in Charleston.

The Council held one of its annual meetings in Charleston, and this was the first time in 27 years it was located outside of its home in Washington, D.C.

The National Council on the Arts gives advice to the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts on policies and programs. It then reviews and makes recommendations to the Chairman about grant applications, funding guidelines and leadership initiatives.

The council meeting convened Friday morning, and Randall Reid-Smith, curator for the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History, started the morning off with a rendition of the National Anthem. Other performers at the meeting included Sophie Fatu, a five-year old singing star; students from Capital High School; student competitors of the national poetry recitation contest Poetry Out Loud and the Cabell Midland Jazz Knights.

Mary Anne Carter, acting chairwomen for the NEA, said that it’s a myth that the organization only funds projects in big cities or in cities on the east or west coasts.

“We reach thousands of communities across the country every year, so while we may be headquartered in Washington, our work, our priorities and our vision extends far, far beyond our nation’s capital,” she said.

White added that 40 percent of the NEA’s grant-making budget is allocated to regional art organizations and state art agencies– including the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History.

“These organizations are among our most important partners, because they understand the culture and needs of the regions and communities better than anyone,” she said. “They are the boots on the ground, and we rely on their expertise and networks to transform our investments into opportunities for all residents to participate in and benefit from the arts.”

Carter was among the group of council members who made their way into the state yesterday and visited the Huntington Museum of Art, the Keith Albee Performing Arts Center in Huntington and the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences before watching a showcase that included performances by musicians of Mountain Stage, pianist Barbara Nissman and Greenbrier Valley Theater.

“At every stop it’s been clear that the arts are thriving in West Virginia whether it be contemporary or traditional, visual art or performance,” she said on Friday at the meeting. “Because the arts are thriving, they’re helping West Virginians thrive as well.”

Dr. Maria Rossario Jackson is from Los Angeles, California where she works as an urban planning and community policy specialist. She said she was “in the best way overwhelmed” by the landscape, heart and the hospitality West Virginia has.

“This has been a beautiful trip,” she said. “It is inspiring to see your towns, your cities, your rural areas, and to witness the creativity of the people who live here and your openness to other perspectives.”

Paul Hodes came from Concord, New Hampshire and is an attorney, musician and former congressman and said the support West Virginia has for the arts is vital.

“Your support for the arts is very important and manifests in everything we saw here in West Virginia. It’s just been a tremendous pleasure and also a privilege to be with you,” he said.

Hodes joked that he was heading back to New Hampshire with “West Virginia envy”.

“You all do arts like nobody else’s business, and you should be justly, and are justly, proud of your cultural heritage, the traditions that are beautiful and the excellence of your art is what came home to me,” he said.

House of Representatives member Evan Jenkins closed out the meeting by saying that funding was raised for the National Endowment for the Arts in the 2018 omnibus spending bill despite the original proposal from the Trump Administration to fully gut funds.

“You have our commitment. You have our passion. You have our firm belief in what you do, so for the Council and the grant-making advisory role that the Council plays to the NEA, thank you for coming to West Virginia,” he said.

The next meeting of the Council should take place in October.

Story by Jordyn Johnson

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