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Gov. Jim Gilmore and his wife are no-shows for their own arts celebration …

Street Talk

Gilmore's Absence Stirs ConcernCantor Campaign Spending Up Before Bliley Stepped DownVMFA Gets $7 Million For New GardensBulky Move Preserves Historic SiteValentine Opts For New Name

Gilmore's Absence Stirs Concern

So what does it mean when the Guv doesn't show up for an awards program in his name?

That's what some members of the local arts community would like to know.

On Oct. 14 the Governor's Awards for the Arts 2000 took place at the Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts.

But amid all those who turned out for the black-tie optional gala that featured performances by the Richmond Ballet, Richmond Symphony, and Virginia Opera, both Gov. Jim Gilmore and his wife, Roxane, who were supposed to unveil the award, were noticeably absent.

"I think everyone was disappointed that neither the governor nor the first lady were there," says Theatre IV's Bruce Miller. Miller is one of 10 representatives from across the state that served on the Awards Ceremony Committee that helped plan and present the event.

"It is a real shame he wasn't there," says Sally Bowring coordinator for the city's 1 Percent For the Arts program. "It is just one more way of diminishing or marginalizing the arts."

It's the first time in nearly 15 years that the Governor's Awards for the Arts have been presented.

This year, the nine recipients from throughout the state were: the Galax Moose Lodge with the Old Fiddlers Convention; author George Garrett of Charlottesville; poet Nikki Giovanni of Christiansburg; composer Aldophus Hailstork of Virginia Beach; Richmond's Theresa Pollak; Pro-Art Association founder Daisy Portuondo of Wise; Philip Morris Family of Companies for its $7 million contributions to the arts; Virginia Center for the Arts, Sweet Briar; and Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, Vienna.

Local arts organizations have struggled for nearly a decade to overcome state funding cuts, and in the past year, much progress was made in terms of lobbying efforts and growing memberships. Virginia arts leaders touted this year as the year to celebrate the renewed strength of the arts community and the governor's intent to support it.

Even the glossy 60-page program includes Jim and Roxane in the evening's lineup. The first couple was slated to unveil the award created by local sculptor, Allan Rosenbaum.

"The governor and the first lady had a scheduling conflict," says Lila White, spokeswoman with the governor's office. White declined to comment further on the first family's whereabouts. White says the couple was disappointed that they were not able to attend. There likely will be another celebration hosted by the first family at a later date to honor recipients of the award, says White.

Still, the recognition could be too little too late for some in the arts community.

But despite the governor's absence, Miller says, "the event was terrific."

"Sometimes politicians underestimate the importance of the arts in contributing to the state's economic development," says Miller. "It's very important for the governor's office to have continued conversations with the arts community."

Brandon Walters

Cantor Campaign Spending Up Before Bliley Stepped Down

Was congressional candidate Eric Cantor tipped off that U.S. Rep. Tom Bliley was going to retire? Cantor says no way, but his office's campaign spending records beg the question.

Between Jan. 1 and March 3, 2000, Friends of Eric Cantor spent $47,636.99. Of those funds $11,000 went to Allen Consulting, the same political consultants who helped Gov. Jim Gilmore craft his No Car Tax pledge. The company also does political consulting for George Allen and has consulted for Bliley. All of this money was spent prior to Bliley's March 8 announcement that he would not seek another congressional term.

During the same time period in 1999 Friends of Eric Cantor only spent $24,398. Allen Consulting was paid only $2,000 during this period.

But despite these numbers there was no tip from Bliley, according to Cantor. Cantor said that he was told about Bliley's decision by a lobbyist just two days prior to the congressman's public announcement.

"I fell out of my chair (when the lobbyist told me)," Cantor says. "He (Bliley) never indicated anything to me."

Cantor does not have an answer for why his organization spent such a large amount in the time period immediately preceding Bliley's announcement.

"I'll have to go look and see what they were for," Cantor says.

After follow-up calls to receive clarification on the spending figures, Cantor's office issued this statement:

"Style Weekly is misinformed in chasing phantoms. In 1999, my state campaign account spent $140,000 for the year. It should come as no surprise that we continued spending at essentially the same rate during the General Assembly session in 2000. Style Weekly is picking arbitrary dates and fudging their math. As soon as Congressman Bliley announced his retirement, we stopped spending from the state account and began work on my bid for Congress."

While Cantor says that the increased spending in the first two months of 2000 does not indicate an inside tip, Larry While Cantor says that the increased spending in the first two months of 2000 does not indicate an inside tip, Larry Sabato, a political analyst at University of Virginia, says that it could indicate that the delegate was given advance notice of Bliley's retirement.

"One of the advantages that an incumbent has is to give advance notice (of retirement)," Sabato says. "It's been observed for some time that Bliley is fond of Cantor. They're (spending figures are) suggestive (of a tip) But it's purely speculative."

Bliley said that he did not give a tip to anyone about his retirement announcement.

"That's not true at all," Bliley says. "Both he and Martin knew I was term-limited as chairman of a committee. That might have led to the speculation (that I was going to retire). But no one knew I was going to retire until I announced."

Ray Allen of Allen Consulting says that no one knew that Congressman Bliley was going to step down until two days before his formal announcement.

Allen credits Cantor's victory to his organization's hard work and discipline. Allen says that Cantor was lining up support immediately following the announcement, while others were not certain if they would run.

"When it came, Eric quickly was able to turn up a great deal of support, especially in the business community," Allen says. "We were very disciplined to make a lot of phone calls while everyone else was making decisions (on whether to run). The reason Eric got a jump was because when the hammer came down he didn't flinch. In a primary 24 hours is a lifetime."

During the Republican primary Cantor's opponent, State Sen. Steve Martin, was angered by Gov. Gilmore and Rep. Bliley's endorsement of Cantor. Martin declined comment for this story. Despite the support of a large number of major Republican officeholders, Cantor eked out a slim 264-vote margin of victory.

— John Toivonen

VMFA Gets $7 Million For New Gardens

A longtime Richmond benefactress has pledged $7 million to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for extensive new gardens and an endowment to maintain them, a museum board member says.

Lora M. Robins, whose family is known for its pharmaceuticals fortune and charitable contributions in Richmond, will give $6 million to the museum to build the gardens and $1 million for a maintenance fund.

Robins is in the top tier of annual givers to the museum, a museum spokesman says, but he declined to comment on the reported $7 million gift.

The board member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says Robins was approached recently by museum volunteers requesting her support for the museum. Robins suggested the amount, which stunned the volunteers, the board member says.

The two museum volunteers named by the board member declined to comment.

Robins is known to have a passion for gardens and to have generously endowed Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and Maymont, among other organizations. Lewis Ginter and Maymont officials did not return calls by press time.

Rob Morano

Bulky Move Preserves Historic Site

Hanover County doesn't draw crowds like the Outer Banks.

Still, when it comes to moving an enormous structure, there's no job too remote.

In June 1999, Expert Movers, a Virginia Beach contractor was hired by the National Parks Service to move the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the largest brick structure ever to be relocated. Erosion had endangered the landmark - remade in 1867 from more than 1.25 million bricks baked in a kiln beside the James River - and in just three weeks the 4,800 ton lighthouse was moved 2,900 feet inland. The move attracted thousands of spectators daily and cost between $10 and $12 million to complete.

Last week Expert Movers put their relocating skills to the test again, here.

The company was contracted by the Historic Polegreen Church Foundation in Hanover County to move a 5,000-square-foot building on the Confederate battle site nearly 1,000 feet away.

The two-story brick colonial dwelling is a modern structure originally owned by a real-estate developer and later acquired by the foundation. "The building's location was not conducive to maintaining the integrity of the battle site," says Robert Giles, a board member of the Historic Polegreen Church Foundation.

The move is part of the group's mission to preserve the Confederate battle site and memorialize Polegreen Church, which was destroyed during the Civil War. Steel framework has been constructed on the original site that mimics the authentic structure of the church.

In pre-Civil War times, Samuel Davies, the church pastor, opened the church to African-Americans and taught many of them to read. "All these different historical elements converge [there]," says Giles. And while the church may not be a beacon of light like the one in Cape Hatteras, Giles says it, too, shares a place in history with the lighthouse. "[We] mainly want to recognize the importance of Historic Polegreen Church as the cradle of religious freedom."


Valentine Opts For New Name

The Valentine Museum is now The Valentine Museum: Richmond History Center.

Director Bill Martin says the name change reflects the museum's need to clarify its identity and attract more visitors.

Respondents to a recent survey of both in-town and out-of-town residents found "they did not have a clear sense of what they would see and do if they came here," he says.

Martin adds the museum is optimistic, however, because out-of-town residents ranked "Richmond history" as the No. 1 reason they would visit the city.

Focus groups of seniors, young professionals, young parents and elementary school teachers helped come up with the new name.

"Think of driving up the interstate as someone from out of town," Martin says. "Would you stop off at a place called The Valentine Museum … or would you be more likely to stop at a place called the Richmond History Center?"

Martin says the Valentine seeks to become "the one-stop Richmond history shop." New signs, including a large banner to be hoisted at the Valentine, will reflect the name change starting this week.

The Valentine has overcome the "huge financial drain" of the failed Valentine Riverside project and now is making long-term marketing and facilities plans, Martin says. "The Valentine is coming back into its own after a very difficult period," Martin says. "We're going to be one of the many amenities that make the convention center work."


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