08/04/2010 09:26 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Governors' Art Awards Catching On

State budgets always seem to come up a bit short, so what's a governor who wants to provide more support for the arts supposed to do? A few examples from around the country may reveal some possible answers. Donald L. Carcieri, a retired businessman who became governor of Rhode Island in 2003 on a platform of cutting taxes and reducing state government spending, developed the idea of an annual juried art exhibition to promote the artistic talent of Rhode Island artists, with the first-place winner receiving a $1,000 purchase award and the second- and third-place winners given $250 apiece. The money to pay these artists has come from his own pocket -- he did very well in business, retiring in 1997 as chief executive officer of Cookson America, a worldwide materials science company -- and he and his wife, Suzanne, permit themselves the right to pick the artworks out of a group of 35 or 40 that had been previously whittled down from 100 or so by staff members of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. Since the Carcieris bought the art, it officially belongs to them.

The annual juried exhibition of two-dimensional artwork, titled "Scenes of Rhode Island," is hung throughout the month of January in an atrium gallery in the state's Department of Administration Building, and the winning piece will be displayed in the State House for the entirety of the Carcieri Administration. Along with purchasing the artwork, Governor Carcieri insists on the right to make an edition of 100 posters of the image (signed by both the artist and the governor), which are given to charity auctions in Rhode Island as a means for them to raise money.

Rhode Island isn't the only state to mount a governor's art exhibition, but the financial arrangement that Governor Carcieri makes are specific to him. A number of other governors also sponsor art shows as a means of spotlighting in-state talent. In Michigan, Nebraska and Oregon, for instance, artwork by artists living in those states is featured in exhibitions at the governor's residence or office. The Governor's Invitational Art Show in Loveland, Colorado and the Kansas Masters' Invitational Art Exhibit in Manhattan, Kansas, both annual events, are fundraising efforts for non-art causes -- the Kansas Park Trust, an 11,000-acre nature preserve, and the Rotary Club of Loveland -- that involve the display and sale of in-state artists' work. Both events produce a catalogue, with a brief introduction by the respective state's governor, and participating artists receive half of all proceeds from the sale of their work with most or the entire remaining portion applied to the charitable cause. "The governor's name adds prestige to the show," said Judy Archibald, director of the Loveland event, "the way that having a show at a museum is more prestigious than having a show at a bank. Otherwise, the only active role taken by the governor is as a cheerleader."

Often, a governor creates partnerships with non- or for-profit organizations, using those groups' wherewithal and the governor's office's imprimatur to produce a noteworthy event. For instance, the governor of South Dakota teams up with the State Historical Society, the Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City, the South Dakota Art Museum, the University of South Dakota and the South Dakota Arts Council to create the Governor's Biennial Art Exhibition to highlight artists of two- and three-dimensional work living and working within the state. The resulting exhibit travels to five museums and arts centers around South Dakota.

Similarly, the Governor's Capitol Arts Exhibit in Wyoming, a juried show for in-state artists taking place each summer at the Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne, is sponsored by the state museum, the Wyoming Arts Council and a number of area businesses. The pooled money is used to purchase works from the exhibit for the state's art collection, and a 25 percent commission on any other sales from that show goes to buy yet more pieces from the exhibition n for the collection.

Yet other governors' art shows, such as those in California, Ohio and Utah, are intended to highlight the work of high school students in the state. Ohio's Governor's Youth Art Exhibition is perhaps the oldest and largest, bringing in more than 12,000 entries from 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th graders from across the state (students may enter as many as five pieces) that is pared down to 350 works displayed in three separate locations in Columbus. The event is sponsored by 35 colleges and universities from 10 states and the District of Columbia, as well as a couple of arts and crafts magazines, a foundation and an art supply store. Not only do each of the sponsors provide financial support to hold the event, they all provide awards to finalists they select on their own; for the schools, these are scholarships, which range from $1,000 to $14,000, with some recipients eligible for more. (The students, of course, would have to apply to these schools in order to receive the scholarships.) "When it started back in 1970, the idea was to create a showcase of what high school students were doing in the state," said Thad Ricker, executive director of the Ohio Governor's Youth Art Exhibition. "The scholarships came in later." The goal these days "is to make connections between students who want to pursue art on the college level and the schools that might like to recruit them."