Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will recognize Vernon Howell of Barboursville, W.Va., with the top honor, the Governor’s Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement, for his significant accomplishments in the arts at the 2012 Governor’s Arts Awards gala at 6 p.m. on Thursday evening, March 8, (tonight) at the Culture Center, State Capitol Complex in Charleston. The event will be hosted by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History (WVDCH) and the West Virginia Commission on the Arts.

Howell is an award-winning artist whose works have appeared in regional and national shows, both juried and invitational, including The National Gallery of American Art and the Smithsonian Institute. Working in paintings, relief wood sculptures and experimental mixed media, Howell has several art works in private collections, museums and corporate collections, including the West Virginia State Museum’s Collection, and four pieces in the permanent collection of McGraw Hill Publishing Company in New York. He also has won numerous awards for his sculpture that uses a method featuring dimension built by layers in space.

The Huntington native who spent 30 years teaching art at Barboursville High School took advantage of an early retirement opportunity to become a full-time studio artist. He studied at Syracuse University in New York and Marshall College in Huntington. He also earned a master’s degree in art education from Marshall University and did post graduate work at The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Other awards to be presented include the Distinguished Service to the Arts Awards to be given to Grant Cooper and the Marshall Artists Series. Cooper of Charleston has been the artistic director and conductor of the West Virginia Symphony since 2001. The accomplished trumpet soloist has performed at major concert halls from Beijing to London and has written several arrangements for the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra celebrating Appalachian heritage, including “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “West Virginia’s Home to Me” and “The West Virginia Hills.” His passion for music also led to works designed to introduce young audiences to the orchestra by creating an eclectic blend of modern and established styles with interactive audience participation.

The Marshall Artists Series of Marshall University and Huntington each year takes its patrons on an artistic and intellectual journey by bringing outstanding entertainment to the diverse community that has supported the program. Harry Belafonte has been on the bill as well as Yo-Yo Ma, Liza Minelli, The Producers, Eleanor Roosevelt, Marcel Marceau, Isaac Stern, Tim Conway and Don Knotts, just to name a few. Roughly 25-30 percent of its budget comes from Marshall University. The rest comes from the support provided by the community in the form of ticket sales and fund-raisers. The series, celebrating 75 years, started in 1936 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Marshall College, and is considered the second oldest of its kind in the country.

The Artist of the Year Award will be given to Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. of Logan, W.Va., who went from being an underemployed car washer and part-time singer struggling to make ends meet to a Las Vegas headliner and entertainer after becoming the 2011 winner of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” Since then, he has released his first album, “That’s Life,” which features such legendary Frank Sinatra classics as “My Way” and “Fly Me to the Moon.” Murphy and his 16-piece Sweet Lippz Big Band also have performed before sold-out audiences across the country, including West Virginia. His 2012 tour will take him to the legendary Apollo Theatre in New York City in April, and to appearances at the California and West Virginia state fairs this summer.

Arts in Education awards will be presented to the Fine Arts Academy of Cabell Midland High School (FAACMHS) and the School of Harmony, Inc. The FAACMHS, located in Huntington, emphasizes excellence in the creative and performing arts by offering three unique fields of study that allow students the opportunity to explore their passions and talents: performing, visual, and graphic arts. Programs include the “Marching Knights” Marching Band, “Collegium Musicum” Chamber Choir, the “Rhythm in Red” Show Choir and “Knight Visions Designs,” a complete graphic design studio and printmaking business.

The School of Harmony, Inc. in Beaver, W.Va., just south of Beckley, is a nonprofit, community-minded music and fine arts school that fosters excellence in fine arts by challenging students of all ages and backgrounds to develop their talents, desires, and abilities by offering private music lessons as well as free online instruction. With the hard work of dedicated volunteers, community giving and grants, the former Shady Spring Junior High School was transformed into a center that supports the arts through education.

The Leadership in the Arts awards will be given to Chesapeake Energy and the Contemporary American Theater Festival. Chesapeake Energy, with regional corporate offices in Charleston, has generously invested in numerous projects and programming that support the arts and education in West Virginia, including The VH1 Save The Music Foundation program that puts musical instruments in middle-school students’ hands. The second-largest producer of natural gas also has partnered with the Appalachian Education Initiative to recognize West Virginia public high school juniors and seniors who excel in school arts programs. Other beneficiaries of its sponsorships include the Marshall Artists Series, ArtsLink, The West Virginia Center for African American Art & Culture, Inc., “Mountain Stage” and West Virginia Public Broadcasting, among others.

The Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va.; is dedicated to producing and developing new American theater. Its goals are to sustain an artistic prowess of innovation and daring, tell diverse stories, and to create a profound and ever-evolving relationship between the audience and the work. Each year the annual festival presents new plays by American playwrights, most often premieres or second or third productions that deal with contemporary issues that boldly challenge and entertain audiences. Since 1991, the festival has produced 90 new plays, including 34 world premieres.

For more information, contact Jeff Pierson, director of arts for the Division, at (304) 558-0240, ext. 717.

The West Virginia Division of Culture and History is an agency within the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts with Kay Goodwin, Cabinet Secretary. The Division, led by Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith, brings together the past, present and future through programs and services focusing on archives and history, arts, historic preservation and museums. For more information about the Division’s programs, events and sites, visit The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.