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Vandalia Gathering founder receives state’s highest folklife award

The Vandalia Award, West Virginia’s highest folklife honor, was presented to Dr. Norman L. Fagan of Red House this evening as part of the 25th annual Vandalia Gathering. The award was given to Fagan during a ceremony and concert in the West Virginia State Theater of the Cultural Center.

The Vandalia Award is presented annually to a West Virginian who has made outstanding contributions to the continuation of the state’s folk heritage. The award recognizes lifetime achievement in the performance, creation or perpetuation of West Virginia traditional arts. The Vandalia Gathering, an annual three-day festival of traditional arts and folk heritage, is celebrated on Memorial Day Weekend at the Cultural Center and State Capitol grounds in Charleston. More than 40,000 people attend the three-day festival each year.

Fagan was the first commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History and had a profound impact on the cultivation of the state’s traditional arts and culture. An early advocate of recording, documenting, preserving and presenting the folkways of West Virginians, he is credited with founding the Vandalia Gathering in 1977 and ensuring the festival’s growth through its first years.

As commissioner, Fagan also was instrumental in the effort to build the Cultural Center in the State Capitol Complex as a nationally acclaimed showcase for West Virginia performers, artists and craftspeople. The Cultural Center, which also houses the state’s official history museum and archives, opened to great fanfare in 1976.

“Norman’s special love of West Virginia traditional folk arts has long been a gift to our state. As founder of the Vandalia Gathering, it is only appropriate he receive this award during the festival’s silver anniversary celebration,” said current commissioner of culture and history Nancy P. Herholdt at the awards ceremony. “His sense of humor, commitment to excellence, integrity, expertise and pioneering spirit are admired by all who know him.”

Prior to being named commissioner in 1977, Fagan served as the chairman of the West Virginia American Revolution Bicentennial Commission; executive director of the West Virginia Arts and Humanities Council; director of the performing arts for the National Endowment for the Arts; director of education for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.; director of marketing and travel for the West Virginia Department of Commerce; and producer and general manager for the outdoor drama “Honey in the Rock” at Beckley’s Grandview State Park.

Fagan is the 21st recipient of the Vandalia Award. Last year, Bradie “Brooks” Smith of Dunbar was honored for his contributions to the preservation of old-time banjo music.

For more information about the Vandalia Award or the Vandalia Gathering, call (304) 558-0220. 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. Visit the Division’s website at for more information about the Vandalia Gathering and other programs of the Division. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.

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