What’s in a name? As far as the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation is concerned, it’s a commitment to the community. The nonprofit arts organization operates The Freeman Stage in Selbyville, which changed its name to Freeman Arts Pavilion in January.
The pavilion’s showpiece, a $27 million facility, is still in the fundraising stage. No matter. Patti Grimes, the foundation’s executive director, has her eye firmly on the future. “We changed our name to better establish the brand and venue as a destination for the arts in the mid-Atlantic region,” Grimes says.
Those who know Grimes and Michelle DiFebo Freeman, the foundation’s founding chair, know that the planned facility will come to fruition. They need only point to its history.
The Joshua M. Freeman Foundation is a tribute to Michelle’s husband, who died in a helicopter accident in 2006. The former Green Beret was the president of the Carl M. Freeman Companies, which developed Sea Colony, and a noted philanthropist with a love of the arts.
In late 2007, Michelle approached Grimes about creating a summer arts program at Bayside, one of the company’s communities. At the time, Grimes was vice president of marketing and customer relations for the developer. The women came up with a list of family-friendly entertainment options, including music, movies and children’s activities.
Freeman gave Grimes the go-ahead in March 2008. Despite never having handled entertainment programming previously, Grimes didn’t hesitate. The Freeman Stage debuted in June. Attendance that year topped 14,000.
“Pre-pandemic, the stage saw about 65 performances a season, including national and local acts, tribute bands, theater, dance and children’s programming.”
With acts like the B-52s, Chicago and Lyle Lovett, recognition for the outdoor facility grew. In 2019, The Freeman Stage served more than 89,000 patrons. Pre-pandemic, the stage saw about 65 performances a season, including national and local acts, tribute bands, theater, dance and children’s programming.
The 2020 lineup would have been its largest ever. Then came COVID-19, but even that couldn’t stop the momentum. Despite reduced capacity, the venue hosted 16,253 patrons, and outreach efforts to students continued.
Many of the planned 2020 performers were rebooked for this year. Guests will sit on a larger lakefront lawn that can accommodate about 500 socially distanced “pods,” each housing four seats.
If all goes as planned, the new venue will open in four to six years. Plans call for a covered stage and 4,000 seats, more than a quarter of which will be under a roof. Once complete, the complex will also include expanded concessions and dining areas, more restrooms, dressing rooms and production space.
“Over the years, our patrons have told us they’d love to see an extended season— either in May or into the fall,” Grimes says. “With a covered stage, that may be possible.” And, with Grimes at the helm, it’s completely doable.