Driving down Kirkwood Highway, heading into Newark, visitors are met by a host of friendly faces: Newark High School students, moms and children, skateboarders and café customers. The welcome wagon is part of a mural painted on the railroad bridge and abutment that depicts life in the city of Newark.
“The ideas came from the community,” says Terry Foreman, the mural’s artist and executive director of the Newark Arts Alliance. “We included as many things as we could.”
The mural demonstrates the community’s support of arts and culture in Newark. For a small town, the options are remarkably rich and diverse.
Credit for the lively arts scene in part goes to the University of Delaware. “It’s incredible, when you pull out the calendar, how many events UD offers,” says Mayor Vance Funk. “It’s mind-boggling. I think that is the legacy of David Roselle,” the university’s recent past president.
For theater, UD offers the Professional Theatre Training Program, which includes the Resident Ensemble Players. Comprised of nine Equity actors—soon to be 10—and an Equity stage manager, the players are contracted for a four-year residency. They perform in the Thompson Theatre in the Roselle Center for the Arts.
Graduate students, part of the PTTP, perform their own productions in the Hartshorn Theatre for the first two years before joining the REP players for joint productions in both Hartshorn Theatre and the new Thompson Theatre. Extracurricular campus theater groups for undergraduates include E-52 and the Harrington Theatre Arts Company. The new Khulamani Theater Troupe targets African American students.
The art department features regular exhibits by faculty and students. Graduate students also exhibit in the Crane Building in Philadelphia, which brings together student work from regional universities and colleges.
Ensembles and chorale concerts are a regular part of the UD music department’s program. Students need not be part of the music program to play in an ensemble. “They can continue their music even if they are majoring in engineering,” Browning says. “Faculty can come and see their computer science students play the violin or clarinet.” The Master Player series features the artistic direction of Xiang Gao, a faculty violinist from China.
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The university creates a trickle-down effect, Foreman says. Gainfully employed faculty and staff—plus students—have money to spend. “All that radiates out into a healthy environment for the arts,” she says. “We have a fair amount of people coming to the Newark Arts Alliance.”
The alliance, founded in 1993, is located in Market East Plaza Shopping Center. Foreman describes it as “a community arts organization that involves the community.”
The organization has 80 volunteer workers, and programs cover a variety of topics. Consider wine-tasting, fiber art and painting. Tuesday night poetry readings attract teenagers and young adults, while some classes appeal to 50-somethings. The alliance each November participates in a fundraiser for Mosaic, a collaboration of Newark art groups that includes Delaware Dance Company, the Mid-Atlantic Ballet, the Newark Symphony and the Chapel Street Players.
“The arts seem to be growing,” says Sunshine Webster-Latshaw, artistic director of the Delaware Dance Company, which holds three annual public performances, including “The Nutcracker.” “There’s a lot of support and camaraderie among the arts organizations.”
Delaware Dance Company performs in Mitchell Hall on the UD campus and in the Baby Grand in Wilmington. The Mid-Atlantic Ballet each season performs two full-length ballets at Mitchell Hall.
The Newark Symphony, made up of volunteer musicians, has grown from a group of friends rehearsing in a living room in 1966 to a respected organization that presents eight concerts per season, along with musical events and fundraisers. It’s been led by Roman Pawlowski since 1983.
The Chapel Street Players, which in September will enter its 75th season, has a theater off Main Street on Chapel Street. The group’s fundraiser, “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” is June 12-13 and June 19-20.
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The all-volunteer theater group has been designated the official community theater for the city, says Ruth K. Brown, marketing lead for the Chapel Street Players. “We supply what we think is a vital arts opportunity and an option to university productions.” There are five main stage shows a season, a one-act showcase and the fundraiser.
Newark is also home to a variety of quality museums. The University of Delaware offers the University Gallery in Old College, the Paul R. Jones Collection of African American Art in Mechanical Hall and The Mineralogical Museum in Penny Hall, which started in 1964 with the gift of the Irenée du Pont Sr. collection. The Newark History Museum is located on Main Street.
Film is also represented. The Newark Film Festival is in its fifth year. Scheduled for September 10-17, the festival is held at Newark Cinema Center 3 on Main Street. Last year’s event drew 5,000 people, who took advantage of 120 screenings. With three theaters, the festival can offer a family film in one, a documentary in the second and a horror film in the third.
“We’ve had incredible support, not only from the city and the university, but from the attendees, who come from as far away as Baltimore and Binghamton, New York,” says Barry Schlecker, the event’s founder.
Indeed, when it comes to the arts and entertainment, the small city of Newark is a big destination.