WVPB unable to renew grant after apparently violating guidelines

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One of West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s biggest funders did not ask the organization to apply for a new grant for its Folkways Reporting Project after the WVPB Foundation board chair apparently violated its guidelines by publicly naming it. 

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel first reported that the Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies did not ask WVPB to apply for the new grant. 

The station had planned to apply for a three-year, $600,000 grant from Cargill for the Folkways project, WVPB Executive Director Eddie Isom said during an April 3 meeting of the West Virginia Educational Broadcasting Authority, WVPB’s governing board. The Folkways project reports stories about Central Appalachia arts and culture that air on WVPB’s Inside Appalachia program.

Cargill currently funds the project. WVPB has about $270,000 remaining of the current grant, Michael Farrell, chair of the WVPB Foundation board, said during a June 5 meeting of the board.

The foundation did not give WVPB a reason for not accepting its application, Farrell said. The foundation was not named during the meeting. 

Farrell said during the meeting that he inferred the foundation did not accept an application because “we did not follow their guidelines of never mentioning their name.”

Earlier this year, West Virginia passed Senate Bill 844, which reassigned the hiring authority for WVPB’s executive director from the Educational Broadcasting Authority, its governing board, to the state’s Secretary of the Department of Arts, Culture, and History, an appointee of the governor. During the April EBA meeting, Farrell said that Cargill wanted to meet with him, Isom and cabinet secretary Randall Reid-Smith about the new legislation. 

Americo Valdes, WVPB’s director of grant programs, said during an April 3 meeting of the WVPB Foundation board that Cargill is “one of our largest grant providers.” He had just come from a convening of other MACP grantees and told the WVPB Foundation board, “They love us.” 

After the April meetings, the Charleston Gazette published the funder’s name “because that particular benefactor had raised issues and asked questions, and we reported that to the board,” Farrell said at this month’s meeting.

During the June 5 meeting, one board member asked whether the newspaper coverage was the primary reason the foundation did not accept a grant application. 

“All I can tell you is their letter saying don’t expect any more grants did not give us a reason,” Farrell said. “I can tell you I spent hours, literally hours, on the telephone with these people over the last two and a half months, and the principal if not sole subject was the newspaper articles.”

“We all have to know the rules,” Farrell continued. “When I assumed to the chairmanship … nobody handed me a packet that said these are the rules of the grants that we have. Nobody told me that there were words and identities that I couldn’t disclose. So this is all an educational process that we are not going to fall into this briar patch again, because we’re all going to be better educated than we were four months ago.”

“Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies (MACP) does not take positions on matters of politics, and we have not expressed opinions or concerns regarding any West Virginia legislation,” a Cargill spokesperson told Current in an email. “MACP does not publicly comment on specific grant proposals; we follow standard processes for reviewing grant applications and not all proposals are funded. We can, however, confirm that we have been a publicly recognized funder of West Virginia Public Broadcasting Foundation for several years.”

“We’ve already gone through two cycles of this grant with them,” Isom told Current in a phone interview. “We’ve always had the understanding that they weren’t going to fund the project forever. … We’ve had a great six years with them. They helped us develop a really great program that we are going to find a way to continue in some way.”

During the June EBA meeting, Isom said that WVPB will “continue to look for alternative funding” for the Folkways project. The project is “a really important part of who we are and what we do, so we are looking for plans in place to continue on some level,” he said.

“It might not look the same,” Isom said. “… It might actually open up for us to expand it a little more and the type of things we’re doing with it, because the things we have to do now are really restrictive according to the grant specifications.”

He added that he anticipates having enough money for the project to last for one year.

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