Tina Betz has served as director of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs in Wilmington for more than a decade. Her office handles events like the popular Clifford Brown Jazz Festival. Betz is also a classically trained opera singer and has a thing for scarves.
DT: Some people still say that Wilmington shuts down at 5. Do they say that to you?
TB: Very few people say it directly to me. I’ve experienced Wilmington after 5. Lots of stuff happens after 5. Some people just like repeating themselves, and they don’t want to change their minds. It takes all types. That’s why there are couches and TVs.
DT: Tell me about your trademark scarves.
TB: I probably have about 100-plus scarves. I find them at lots of odd places: second-hand shops in New York or Philadelphia, or the Salvation Army here in Wilmington. I have no idea when I started, but it’s something that my family knows about me and they give me scarves for presents. And I wear them all. They’re my babies, and I never give them away.
DT: I understand that your husband is Fat Rick of Fat Rick’s BBQ fame.
TB: Yes. “The King of Barbeque,” as he likes to call himself. Of course, he does it in Spanish, so a lot of people don’t know what he’s talking about.
DT: What are the advantages/disadvantages of being married to The King of Barbeque?
TB: The big advantage is that he cooks about 90 percent of the time at home. The disadvantage is that he cooks about 90 percent of the time at home.
DT: Has the mayor lost his marbles?
TB: (laughs) You know what? I like people who march to the beat of their own drummer, who are true to themselves. I think the mayor is very true to himself, and I respect that and I love that about him. I would not change a thing about Mayor Baker. He says what’s on his mind. He’s very committed to the city. I know sometimes people think that he’s just talking without thinking. He’s extremely thoughtful. So, if he’s lost his marbles, then that’s fine with me.
DT: What does your office do?
TB: We do arts programming and special events. That’s sort of the bottom line summary. Some of the specific things we do, we manage Theatre N, Delaware’s independent film theater. It’s been in business about nine years. We also manage the Wilmington Children’s Chorus, about 120 children from Wilmington and surrounding areas. The chorus will be celebrating its 10th anniversary coming up.
We do the DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival. By ‘do,’ I mean we coordinate it, we book it, and everything that comes with putting on the weeklong festival we do in my office. We’ll be celebrating the 24th year of that.
We also do the Riverfront Blues Festival, Art on the Town and various and sundry other things that are arts related and special events related here in the city.
Fringe is our newest baby that we do. We try to fill the niches here in Wilmington where it feels like something’s missing. We just need to fill those little artistic voids, so that’s what we do.
DT: How long have you worked in the office?
TB: In a year and a half, it will be 12 years. I started in 2001 and this is actually the second time I’ve been employed by the city. I also worked with Dan Frawley back in his administration as the director of cultural affairs. My first big job was coordinating the 350th anniversary of the landing of the Swedes and Fins in Wilmington and the anticipated visit of the kind and queen of Sweden and other dignitaries of Finland and Sweden. I came on board and stayed for a few years, then left to go do my own thing and came back in 2001.
DT: Will a new mayor mean a job change for you?
TB: It doesn’t necessarily mean that. But I’m anticipating that that’s what it will mean. Not simply because whoever is coming on board may not see me as a good fit, although that’s certainly a possibility, but also I’m taking a look at the options that are available to me in the next phase of my career. So, there’s a pretty good possibility that the city will see some new blood in this position in 2013.
DT: What’s the best part of your job?
TB: Each day is very, very different from the day before. It’s definitely not a regular 9 to 5 job. And it’s definitely not the type of job that you know when you come in that the day is going to be totally structured. That’s not to say that it’s totally unstructured. But right now I’m working three or four major projects. A couple of public art commissions, the jazz festival, the blues festival, Fringe Festival planning, so every day is just very, very different from the day before and will more than likely be different from the day after. I like that about my job.
DT: How tough has it been to keep all these events afloat during this bad stretch with the economy?
TB: It’s not easy. It’s never easy. If we had all the money we ever needed, and I don’t know what that amount would be, then maybe it would be easy. I have never had that luxury. The way I try to approach it is whatever I have is what I work with. We are really fortunate to have a lot of good friends, a lot of good partners. So that’s how we make it work by leveraging our relationships and working with people who have common goals. And the one big common goal is to do whatever it is that we can continue to do in Wilmington to make it a really lively and friendly and arts-infused city. So yes, it’s tough. Would we like it to be less tough? Absolutely. But it is what it is.
DT: You’ve probably met a lot of famous people through your work. Who are some of your favorites? Or, am I wrong and you’ve not met anybody interesting?
TB: (Pause) Everybody I’ve met has been interesting in their own way. One of the things that people find surprising when I talk to all the artists who have come through Wilmington is I cannot remember a bad experience with an artist. They come through and I don’t know if we’re just lucky in the people we pick, almost every jazz artist that’s out there has come through Wilmington. But everybody is just so happy to be here, so every experience has been an exciting one. It’s very difficult for me to choose any one or even a couple, and that’s a good thing. I’m sort of always looking forward to who the next person will be. I guess it’s an impossible question for me to answer, because I haven’t answered it. (laughs)
DT: That’s OK. Is there anybody who hasn’t come through that you’d like to see perform?
TB: Although I’ve seen B.B. King a number of times, I have not had the opportunity to present him. I would love to have the opportunity to present him.
DT: Well, once we put this in the magazine, he’ll probably show up and knock on your door.
TB: He’s been here in Wilmington at The Grand, but you know we haven’t presented him in the Jazz Festival or the blues festival. I think that would be a wonderful thing to do. We’ve had many of the greats, Herbie Hancock and Wynton Marsalis, Arturo Sandoval, just on and on and on.
DT: What are the big factors that have started to change the perception that Wilmington shuts down at 5?
TB: We’ve gotten a lot of press recently about the renovation of the Queen and World Cafe Live coming to town and Hal Real, who is the bigwig at World Cafe Live, moving from Philadelphia down to Wilmington. I think stories like that happen more frequently than people know about, but when people start talking about it or for whatever reason it starts making a big splash. It makes a big splash. I think that’s very helpful to telling people about what it is that we do. The thing is we’ve been doing things like that for a long time. But it sometimes takes a really big happening, like the opening of World Cafe Live, for people to start paying attention again. So we need to make sure that we have a constant stream of new things that are happening in Wilmington. Three years ago, the Fringe Festival was a new happening that got a lot of attention. The opening of WCL got a lot of attention. Those are probably two of the most exciting things and thing a lot of people didn’t think would happen. Two years ago, when there was talk about doing the renovation at the Queen, there were a lot of people who didn’t think it would happen, or happen in the short time period that it did. But it happened. The same with the Fringe Festival. There were people here who said, “In Wilmington?” Yeah. We can do that here in Wilmington. There are people who want to enjoy that type of art. We have consumers and we have artists who are in that place. In September, we will be doing our third year with two successful years behind us. We have to keep doing things like that. There are enough people here who believe in Wilmington and its potential. I think there is nothing but hope on the horizon.
DT: Tell us about your career before you worked in the mayor’s office. You were an actress and singer?
TB: Yes. I also produced corporate events, product launches and meetings for top-level managers at resorts at various places around the country. I was a special events coordinator before coming to the city. Just as an independent person outside of government and outside of corporation, doing all sorts of fun things and going to all sorts of fun places. I did a lot of performance, both stage and some voiceover and some film work before I came back to work with the government.
DT: Is there anything you’re especially proud of with that work?
TB: The closest thing I did before coming here was Stephen Sondheim—my love—I did “Sweeney Todd” up at the Arden Theatre. I got a credit. I was the bird seller. That was really, really exciting. I did a lot of training films and some voiceover work. Even now when I’m in a supermarket, somebody will come around the corner if I’m talking to my husband or my daughter, and they’ll say, “I recognize that voice.” Everything I do, I do it and I love it and then I move onto the next thing. So it’s difficult to have a favorite. Everything is my favorite while I’m doing it. Then I’ll always look forward to the next thing, which will more than likely become my favorite.
DT: You’re also a trained opera singer and you do some performances locally?
TB: Yes. I’m classically trained and I do light opera. I sing as a member of an octet called the Choral Scholars. That’s an ensemble that’s in residence at the Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew. So we sing regularly there and we also sing out in the community at various places and functions. I also was the narrator last year when the Delaware Symphony Orchestra performed the Lincoln Portrait. So, I’m called upon every now and then to sing, sometimes to narrate. I sang in a group with two other women a few years ago. The Three Mo’ Sopranos. We performed up and down the Mid-Atlantic for three or four years.