West Virginia arts groups worry funding cuts could paint them into a corner

Photo by Perry Bennett, West Virginia Legislative Photography From the left, Dorsey Northrup, Vance Hewitt, Joyce Stephens and Becky Deem of the Parkersburg Art Center exhibit on Wednesday during Arts Day at the West Virginia Legislature. Spending cuts were on most people’s minds.

PARKERSBURG — Local arts and festival groups are concerned with the fiscal developments in Charleston where state officials are trying to plug a $500 million budget hole.

“It’s scary,” Abby Hayhurst, executive director of the Parkersburg Art Center, said.

Gov. Jim Justice has proposed, among tax and fee increases and cuts, eliminating funding for fairs and festivals and other programs in a $4.3 million budget reduction in the Division of Culture and History. West Virginia Public Broadcasting is among the proposed cuts.

With a reduced emphasis on the arts in public schools, agencies such as the Art Center and Artsbridge in Wood County are providing programs for elementary and preschool students to make up for what they are not getting in school, Hayhurst said. Children exposed to the arts do better in other areas of study, such as math and science, she said.

Programs come with costs, Hayhurst said.

Photo by Will Price, West Virginia Legislative Photography Vance Hewitt, a potter and board member of the Parkersburg Art Center, on Wednesday demonstrates how pottery is turned on a potter’s wheel at Arts Day at the West Virginia Legislature.

“We can’t do it on zero money,” she said.

State funding helps, she said. Participants are charged a tuition, but can’t be so much that it creates a divide between parents who can and who can’t afford the cost, Hayhurst said.

“It’s a big concern,” said Jane Irvine, executive director of Artsbridge, a cultural development group in Wood and Washington counties.

Funding from the state of West Virginia has been reduced over the years, she said. Local sources provided funding with the state, which no longer is the biggest source of funding for Artsbridge, she said.

“This funding is not guaranteed,” Irvine said.

Among the events Artsbridge provides are the Artists on Tour program in schools and the Very Spectacular Arts Festival for special education students. The agency also is working with Vienna Elementary School on a pilot arts program for third- and fourth-graders, she said.

“We’re serving 19,000 elementary students in seven counties, two in Ohio,” she said.

Losing more funding stretches available resources, said Felice Jorgeson, executive director of the Smoot Theatre. The impact is on the children, said Jorgeson, who was a director of the Parkersburg High School marching band.

“It is really bad,” she said.

Jessie Siefert, education director at the Art Center, agrees. Art rounds out a child’s education, she said.

“Art is such a great way to integrate what you learn” in other disciplines, Siefert said.

Wednesday was Arts Day at the state Capitol where groups and artists of numerous disciplines around West Virginia participated in displays and exhibits to encourage lawmakers to support funding for the arts. The theme was Artists at the Heart of Communities and among the top concerns was the total funding elimination to West Virginia Public Broadcasting, which impacts well-known shows like “Mountain Stage.”

Members of the Art Center were present, including local potter Vance Hewitt, Dorsey Northrup, Joyce Stephens and Becky Deem, wife of Delegate Frank Deem. The West Virginia Symphony Orchestra was there, too, and represented by Mary Ann Osborne, Dave Bidstrup and Jane Whitlow.

The symphony, which submits an application for funds in the competitive bidding process, in the present budget received $73,823, the same as the Wheeling Symphony and the Huntington Symphony. The amount, which is matched 1-1 with local funding, is being sought in the next budget, too, Osborne said.

In the past, wealthy patrons supported the symphony and most people couldn’t afford to attend a concert, she said. While a ticket for a concert to the West Virginia Symphony is $22, it covers only 40 percent of the expenses to produce a concert, Osborne said.

The symphony puts on four concerts and three in the schools.

“We have to rely upon grants and donations,” Osborne said.

Numerous local fairs and festivals receive funding. They include the Mountain State Art and Craft Festival, the Black Walnut Festival, the Taste of Parkersburg, the Parkersburg Homecoming, the Gathering at Sweet Creek in Wood County, Volcano Days at Mountwood Park, the West Virginia Interstate Fair and Exposition in Wood County, the Belleville Homecoming and the Moon Over Mountwood Fishing Festival.

The Parkersburg Homecoming receives about $11,000, according to the budget passed in 2016.

Without state funding, the homecoming would have to find additional businesses and sponsors, said Sherry Valentine, president of the homecoming.

“It is a concern,” she said.