Kent County’s Talented Artists Paint the Town Amid the Pandemic

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Kent County’s art scene may be a little different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but artists throughout the county find new ways to thrive.

The arts are meant to bring people together, but in a time when gathering is frowned upon, the artists of Kent County are getting creative—no pun intended.

Downtown Dover is just one of many communities that adjusted its arts scene because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Diane Laird, the executive director of the Downtown Dover Partnership (DDP), explains it as simply trying to figure out a new groove.

“Considering that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, I think we’ve done pretty well in shifting the way we’ve been doing things,” Laird says.

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One big draw in Downtown Dover is First Fridays. Before the pandemic, the streets would be bustling with musicians, shoppers and artistic offerings.

Downtown Dover lost First Fridays in April 2020, but in May, they did something they’d never done before: a virtual First Friday that allowed attendees to watch performances from local musicians. During the summer, they were able to make things feel a little normal again with buskers in the street and about a dozen or so shops and eateries participating.

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Laird successfully reopened the Schwartz Center for the Arts for the first time since its closure in 2017 to host November’s First Friday. The Cartoon Christmas Trio jazz group performed in the space during the event.

“I was just excited that we were able to put on these high-quality events and activities for the artists and for the community,” Laird says.

The pandemic also showed the partnership a new and improved way of hosting the Paint Dover! 2020 Plein Air Painting Event, Competition and Exhibition. In years past, the plein-air painting event usually took place on one day, but this time, it was three days to avoid crowding.

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“The artists came and painted over three days as opposed to one, and we stretched the exhibit out on the street over two blocks,” Laird says.

Photo by Diane Laird

The DDP also took it a step further by offering a virtual exhibit, as well as a two-week exhibition of the paintings inside store windows.

Julie Black-Smith is one of the painters who participated in the new and improved Plein Arts event. She moved to Kent County from Fort Worth, Texas, in February 2020 and came across the plein-air paint-off on Facebook. After she met Laird, she began volunteering and getting involved in Dover’s arts and culture community.

She says that while Fort Worth’s culture and art scene is huge, she recognizes a thirst for a popular art scene in Dover.

“I can see the desire here, and I love the history here and I think that that has a lot of appeal for the artists around here, and that seems to be what draws people here,” Black-Smith says. “I can tell that the people want the arts in their backyard—they don’t want to have to travel to Philadelphia or Baltimore.”

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As the weather got colder and outdoor events became harder to host outdoors, the partnership went on hiatus. Until the weather warms up this spring, one way to support Kent County artists is right at your fingertips.

The Fig Tree Band performed at Dover’s First Friday. Since the pandemic, the Downtown Dover Partnership continues to celebrate the arts through virtual events.

Dover artist Winifred Way has taken to social media to sell her works during quarantine, and she says it hasn’t disappointed.

“I probably sold more work during this time than any other time,” Way says. “I post everything because people are home and they’re on the internet and they’re looking at Instagram and Facebook, so that’s what I do.”

Way has faith that with more and more artists utilizing social media, more attention will be brought to the downtown dover art scene.

“I think a lot of people have been on the internet looking at art, and a lot of these people didn’t even know that there was this many artists in Dover. So, I just think it’s going to just blow up,” Way says.

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