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Governor’s Arts Awards winners announced

A theater teacher from Wyoming County, a multimillion-dollar family foundation and a small-town travel council from the Eastern Panhandle are among the six winners recently selected from 60 nominations for the 2005 Governor’s Arts Awards. Governor Joe Manchin III will announce the seventh winner, for the Distinguished Arts Award for lifetime achievement, from among three finalists on the night of the awards ceremony. The public awards gala is scheduled for the Cultural Center in the State Capitol Complex, Charleston, on Monday, April 4, 2005 at 7 p.m.

“We are thrilled at the excellence, extensive service and diversity of the award winners,” said Jeanne Mozier, chairman of the Governor’s Arts Awards committee. “There are individual artists, organizations and every corner of the state represented. Reading their accomplishments, it is obvious why the arts have such a huge impact on life in all our communities.”

The Arts in Education award, sponsored by BB&T, goes to Benny Mills, who is celebrating nearly 20 years of teaching theater in the Wyoming County schools, often drawing more audience members for student plays than for athletic events. Jessica Levine, a Greenbrier County artist, won the Arts Leadership and Service Award, sponsored by CONSOL Energy, for celebrating diversity and cultural awareness through the community arts activities of her organization, Dottywood. The Creative Community Spirit Award, sponsored by Mine Power Systems Inc., was won by Travel Berkeley Springs of Morgan County, cited as a model for a productive partnership between the arts and tourism. Charleston’s Clay Foundation Inc. won the Arts Patron Award, sponsored by Jackson Kelly PLLC, for its financial contributions to the Clay Center and arts organizations supported by the Fund for the Arts. The Artistic Excellence Award, sponsored by Tamarack, was won by Toneta Akers-Toler of Beckley for more than 20 years of dance and choreography. Akers-Toler founded the West Virginia Dance Company, the first professional touring dance troupe in the state. Museum in the Community of Putnam County was selected as the Arts Innovator of 2005, an award sponsored by the West Virginia Lottery. The museum’s efforts to reach out to underserved populations were highlighted.

Three West Virginians were selected as finalists for the Distinguished Arts Award for lifetime achievement. The finalists are Pam Parziale of Kearneysville, a working artist, arts administrator and arts activist; Elizabeth “Libby” Francis of New Martinsville, celebrated for her 50-year career as an educator, theater director and choral master; and Harold “Hal” O’Leary of Wheeling, who founded the Towngate Theatre and has brought theater arts to the Northern Panhandle for 55 years.

The black tie-optional gala awards ceremony and reception will be hosted by West Virginia native and Academy Award nominee Morgan Spurlock, who created the award-winning 2004 documentary “Super-Size Me.”

Troy Body, commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, and Kay Goodwin, secretary of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, were the driving force behind reinstating the Governor’s Arts Awards for the first time in the 21st century.

“The arts are absolutely essential to both the economic well being and quality of life here in West Virginia,” said Body. “These awards are the least we can do to celebrate the tremendous creative force and contribution made by not only the winners but all the nominees. These 60 are just the tip of the iceberg,” he added.

For more information about the event, call the Cultural Center at (304) 558-0162. Tickets for the program are available by calling Sam Ratliff at (304) 558-0220, ext. 124, or by e-mailing tina.l.stinson@wv.gov. The West Virginia Division of Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.