Over the years, some of us at Delaware Today have had many discussions with local leaders about the state of the arts. Their eternal question: How can we increase audiences?
That question became even more important after the economic crash of 2008. In an area where funding can be hard to come by, it had become more difficult than ever. The old MBNA, such a robust supporter of many arts organizations, was swallowed up by Bank of America, which wasn’t immediately ready to commit to the same level of funding. As many of us started to tighten on personal spending, ticket sales dwindled. And as new media evolved to the point of providing instant, free entertainment, other diversions eroded interest. OperaDelaware started to fail. The Delaware Symphony Orchestra was almost forced to cancel an entire season. Delaware Art Museum was soon to fall on hard times. And so it went throughout the local arts community, even as a handful of angels worked behind the scenes, contributing money and leadership to keep things going.
Few of us, I believe, realize what we stood to lose. There are very few cities the size of Wilmington that can boast of an arts scene so large and diverse, one comprised of organizations and institutions that are among the very best in the region. Add to those already mentioned Delaware Theatre Company, The Delaware Children’s Theatre, First State Ballet Theatre and The Delaware Contemporary. That’s not to mention smaller groups such as the innovative Christina Cultural Arts Center and City Theatre Company, community groups such as Wilmington Drama League, or the fine schools that contribute to the richness of the scene, such as The Music School of Delaware and the Wilmington Ballet Academy of the Dance.
Widening the circle by a few short miles includes the Delaware Museum of Natural History, Brandywine River Museum—a home for Wyeth family art— the stunning Nemours estate, and Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. (Vanderbilts have nothing on du Ponts.) Widen the circle even more to include the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover—a true gem—and the Schwartz Center for the Arts. Let me not forget the wealth of tiny museums and historic sites, small venues, community art leagues, local theater groups, chamber groups and orchestras that exist across the state. (Happy 50th, Newark Symphony Orchestra.)
This is no mere inventory. (And my apologies to all those I didn’t name. There are simply too many.) I mean only to emphasize that we have a remarkable arts scene, one that should be the envy of any place in the country. And one that deserves our support.
Growing audiences has little to do with increasing revenue. Audiences are, quite simply, the reason the arts exist. We glorify what others create, be it music, paintings or ballets. The people behind the organizations that bring us together work hard to enrich our lives. I hope that you’ll be inspired to take part as you read this issue’s arts preview. And as you read in “How Local Leaders Revived Wilmington’s Art Scene” about the leaders who saved—or started—some of our most exciting groups and venues, please remember: Their organizations can’t thrive without us.