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Alissa Novoselick: Report mocks value of state’s fairs, artist entrepreneurs

By By Alissa Novoselick

The report “Wild and Wasteful West Virginia,” released Thursday by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance and state partner, the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy, stated that “Most taxpayers already know that a balanced budget is even nicer than a few pretty pictures,” when referencing funding for arts in the state of West Virginia.

Masquerading as a responsible, pro-business agenda, this report, in fact, targets small business economic development and the preservation of West Virginia’s shared cultural heritage by citing fairs and festivals as an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars.

These sensational statements are simply false. Fairs and festivals have been a long-time, in-state market opportunity for small businesses such as performing and visual artist-owned enterprises as well as farmers. They have been, and will continue to be, of great import to our state.

In a study completed by the Tamarack Foundation at the end of 2015, 70 percent of owners of West Virginia-based, artist-owned enterprises said income from fairs and festivals is important to the success of their small businesses. Twenty-two percent of the respondents said dollars earned from fairs and festivals are “extremely important” to the success of their businesses.

“So many of us [business owners] count on fairs and festivals for our livelihood. In addition, our surrounding communities are positively impacted economically during these times, having a ripple effect for the greater good. As a state, we need to focus on the development of artist businesses as an opportunity to increase state revenue,” said Christine Keller, owner of Chrizart Jewelry of Buckhannon.

This report that attacks participators and organizers of such opportunities harms the pro-business culture we are desperately trying to build in such trying economic times. It also targets a primary source of economic activity in communities across the state.

Beyond being an important source of revenue for the small businesses that set up temporary shops and provide entertainment at these events, fairs and festivals serve as a form of direct and ancillary economic impact through dollars spent at surrounding restaurants, shops and hotels.

Fairs and festivals serve as a primary tourism driver for small and large cities and towns across the state today. At the 80-year-old Mountain State Forest Festival, cited as the top recipient of funds in this report, the 7,000-person town of Elkins balloons in size as more than 75,000 visitors flood the area.

The first Queen of the Mountain State Forest Festival was crowned in 1930, long before many of us reading this were even born. The pride generations of West Virginians have placed in our local fairs and festivals is outright mocked in this inflammatory report.

The joy and entertainment we find at these events serves as the heartbeat for communities across our state. They are — and have been — a source of pride for multiple generations of West Virginians, and they serve as an excellent means to attract new West Virginians to the area.

We are not robbing ourselves of an opportunity by continuing to help fund fairs and festivals, we are choosing to make an investment in the events that drive economic growth and serve as the physical manifestation of the collective pride we all share in the vibrant heritage of this state.

Assessing the impact of our taxpayer-based investments is the duty and responsibility of our democratically elected legislators. This is not an easy job. I place trust in the legislators who are contributing members of our cities and towns today — not outside interests — to make the best decisions for our communities.

Alissa Novoselick is the executive director for the Tamarack Foundation, a statewide organization that works to build the creative economy of West Virginia through artist entrepreneurship.

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