Virginians for the Arts was formed in 1992, in the wake of a recession, to provide united advocacy among Virginia’s arts organizations and advocates to support increased public funding of the Virginia Commission for the Arts. While protests from the arts community prevented elimination of the Virginia Commission for the Arts in 1992, its funding was cut by 72 percent. Virginia dropped to 54th in U.S. funding for the arts ($.23 per capita).

With Virginians for the Arts’ encouragement, beginning in 1997, the goal of funding $1.00 per capita has been endorsed annually by succeeding Governors and the General Assembly to be included in the state budget.

The General Assembly created the Virginia Arts Foundation in 1997, a non-reverting fund that receives revenue from the sale of the arts license plates and the income tax check-off for the arts. The Virginia Arts Foundation is administered by the state Department of Accounts and the board of the Virginia Commission is responsible for appropriate expenditure of the funds.


Virginians for the Arts coordinated with Governor James Gilmore on a celebration of Governor’s Arts Awards in 2000. Public funding for the Virginia Commission for the Arts climbed steadily and reached $.69 per capita in 2002.

In 2000, Virginians for the Arts, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and the Virginia Association for Museums contracted with the Wessex Group to produce a study of the economic impact of Virginia’s arts and cultural organizations, which showed that arts and culture were a $1 billion industry in the state.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks and a stumbling economy, Virginia Commission for the Arts funding dropped dramatically by more than $2 million during a series of cuts between 2002 and 2004. State arts funding dropped to $.34 per capita. Virginians for the Arts aggressively advocated with the Office of the Governor and with legislators to restore funding after these cuts. It adopted an e-mail advocacy system linked to Americans for the Arts to facilitate email communications between its members and legislators.

Virginians for the Arts Foundation (Foundation) was formed in 2002 as a sister organization to Virginians for the Arts. The Foundation was created in order to receive public/private charitable contributions and received 501(c)3 tax exempt status from the IRS in 2004. The Foundation then began working with the Virginia Commission for the Arts to co-sponsor the annual ArtWorks conference in 2003.

The original mission of the Foundation was to further advance the interests of the arts and artists for the benefit of all citizens and communities of Virginia by:

  • assisting artists, arts groups, and cultural organizations in their growth and development;
  • providing peer networking and professional education and exchange opportunities;
  • working to increase the public value of and appreciation for the arts in Virginia; and
  • communicating regularly with its membership of artists, arts organizations and citizens statewide about advocacy issues and opportunities.

In the appropriation for 2004-2006, Governor Warner and the Virginia General Assembly restored $541,000 in state funding for arts grants. State arts grants funding rose to $.41 per capita at the beginning of fiscal year 2006.

The Foundation initiated Phase I of its state public awareness campaign, Arts Build Communities, in 2007, engaging broad statewide support. Governor Kaine celebrated Governors Arts Awards in September 2008, in coordination with the Foundation and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

In 2006 the Foundation began work with the Virginia Commission for the Arts to co-sponsor periodic, regional professional development workshops. Workshop topics included public relations, financial management, audience development, and strategic planning. In addition, from 2006 to 2010 the two organizations worked together to provide support to a network of local arts agencies.

Virginia Commission for the Arts funding rose to $.80 cents per capita on July 1, 2007, moving Virginia to #34 among states and territories in funding for its state arts agency. Arts grants funding stood just under $6 million at the beginning of fiscal year 2007-2008, but was cut in September 2007 by $191,000, as part of the state’s effort to adjust agency budgets to conform to lower revenue projections. In the fall of 2008 budgets of state agencies were further reduced during a nationwide economic downturn. The Commission’s budget was cut by 15 percent to $5,262,774. This budget level was approved by the Virginia General Assembly during its 2009 legislative session for the 2010 fiscal year.
In early 2009, Virginia moved to 31st among states and territories in per capita rankings of public funding for state arts agencies. Virginia’s per capita funding had dropped to $.68 —its movement upward in the national ranking reflected the downturn in funding that other states were experiencing due to recession.


In 2010, Virginians for the Arts revised its by-laws and merged with the Foundation into one 501(c)3(h) organization under IRS rules.

Also in 2010, Dominion Virginia Power approached Virginians for the Arts about running a Dominion-funded program to recognized outstanding arts organizations in all parts of the state. The program, now known as ArtStars, has awarded funding and public recognition of the good work of Virginia arts organizations in community-building and support of education.