Marshall County Woman Receives Commonwealth's Highest Artistic Honor

Sep 11, 2019

Valera Brooks accepts the Governor's Award in the Arts from Governor Matt Bevin.
Credit Chris Fortenbery

A Marshall County woman has received the Governor’s Award in the Arts. Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin in a ceremony at the Capitol on Tuesday awarded Valera Brooks of Benton with the award, the Commonwealth’s highest artistic honor, for her work in community arts.

Brooks is a longtime educator in Marshall County. Her career in arts education began in 1977 when she was asked to teach 8th grade art at South Marshall Junior High School. Before taking the art position, she taught special education. Brooks said she had no prior experience with art and was initially anxious about teaching the subject. “When you’re thrown into it, you either sink or swim,” she said. 

Over the course of her career, Brooks continued to grow her skills and expand her community involvement. She volunteered with the Marshall County Arts Commission and eventually served as the organization’s president. She has directed theatrical productions, taught art classes and helped with their capital campaign to construct an arts center in Benton.

Recently, Brooks has shifted her focus toward the performing arts. As a volunteer with Playhouse in the Park, she is involved with everything from painting sets to designing costumes. She directs theatre programs for students of all ages and works with the Penguin Project, a program for actors with disabilities. After three years with Playhouse, she was named their 2019 Volunteer of the Year at the annual PIP Awards. 

Marshall County Schools Elementary Art Coordinator Chris Fortenbery nominated Brooks for the award and attended the ceremony on Tuesday. Fortenbery said Brooks was a huge help to her when she started in her position.  

Left to Right: Gene Brooks, Valera Brooks, and Chris Fortenbery.
Credit Chris Fortenbery

“When I accepted the position as Elementary Art Coordinator at Marshall County Schools, Valera was so helpful to me, meeting with me and sharing her personal resources and experience,” Fortenbery said. “I have also seen first-hand how students respond to her energy and direction and admire her greatly.”

Over forty years since the beginning of her career, Brooks said she is thankful she went down the path of arts education. When she received the call that she was receiving the award, she was shocked. 

“People that do what I do, they don’t get any awards. They don’t get any applause because they’re in the background,” Brooks said. She hopes by winning the award, she can bring greater exposure to fine arts educators in west Kentucky. 

According to the Kentucky Arts Council, the award recognizes individuals and organizations who have made extraordinary and significant contributions to the arts in Kentucky. The award is presented in nine categories: Milner, Artist, Business, Community Arts, Education, Folk Heritage, Government, Media and National. The deadline for 2019 nominations is November 1st.