For the second time in a week, Gov. Jim Justice opened the purse strings on the governor’s civil contingency fund Tuesday to hand out $1.14 million in grants to performing arts and historic preservation organizations.
Tuesday’s grants, matching most of the Division of Culture and History line-item appropriations in the 2020-21 state budget — primarily for symphony orchestras and theater companies — follows nearly $1.7 million of contingency fund grants Justice made to more than 320 fairs and festivals around the state last week.
“I’m a real believer that’s part of our fabric. That’s part of our identity,” Justice said Tuesday of the arts and culture grants.
On Tuesday, Justice awarded grants matching line-item appropriations in the Division of Culture and History’s state Lottery fund account in the budget bill.
That includes $59,000 each for the Huntington, Wheeling and West Virginia symphonies; $54,500 for the Appalachian Children’s Chorus; $120,000 to West Virginia Public Theater; $115,000 to Greenbrier Valley Theatre; $90,000 to Theater Arts of West Virginia; and $57,000 to the Contemporary American Theater Festival.
Justice also awarded $38,000 to the Mountain State Forest Festival which, unlike other fairs and festivals, is a separate line item in the budget bill.
Justice did not provide grants for two line items in that section of the budget bill, failing to match appropriated funding for Save the Music and for Independence Hall, in Wheeling.
Justice also matched the budget bill’s $492,000 appropriation for Preservation West Virginia, which provides grants for historic preservation projects.
Last week, Justice not only awarded matching grants for more than 320 fairs and festivals funded in the budget bill, but increased funding for the State Fair of West Virginia from $31,000 in the budget bill to $300,000, increasing total funding for fairs and festivals to nearly $1.7 million.
Justice reiterated Tuesday that, because virtually all fairs and festivals around the state were canceled this year, as many as half would not survive financially without the cash infusions.
“It was reported to me that many of our fairs and festivals are on the ropes,” he said, adding, “They’re not flush with cash, that’s for sure.”
As he did last week, Justice had several recipients of the grants personally thank him for the funding, via a Zoom teleconference.
Although intended to provide a source of immediate funding in emergencies, state law authorizes the governor to make appropriations out of the civil contingency fund as he “may deem necessary and proper.”
While running for re-election in 2000, then-Gov. Cecil Underwood handed out a total of nearly $16 million in grants and awards from the civil contingency fund from July 1 to Election Day. The move drew criticism from challenger Bob Wise, among others, who accused Underwood of using taxpayer dollars for “one of the largest publicly funded campaigns” in the country.
Justice on Tuesday closed out the grants presentation by saying he was acting out of a true belief in the economic and societal benefits of state culture and arts.
“I’m not a politician and I don’t blow smoke at anyone,” he said. “When I tell you something, I mean it, and I mean it from the bottom of my heart.”