In the Know

When Wilmington throws a party, people turn out in droves. From art to blues to film, there’s never a shortage of cultural celebrations.

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Annual Riverfront Blues Festival in Tubman-Garrett Park each August.
Photograph by Barbara Belli for Cityfest

If you’ve ever been to a festival in Wilmington, the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs staff probably had its hands in it. From monthly art walks to city celebrations such as The Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, Wilmington hosts an abundance of events throughout the year.

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And, with the city growing as it is, there are even more events on the way.

Many are either city sponsored or city supported. City-supported events are organized by private entities that request and receive support from city government in the form of grants or in-kind services. Cityfest, Inc., a non-profit entity, subsidizes the city’s financial contributions to arts and cultural programs. The city, through the Office of Cultural Affairs, and Cityfest, Inc. is committed to integrating the arts and culture into the socio-economic life of the community.

Highlighted is a sampling of the wealth of culture in Wilmington. For a complete list, see

Riverfront Blues Festival

Blues fans are some of the most dedicated music fans there are, which is why 3,000 of them pack the Tubman-Garrett Park on the Riverfront each day of the weekend-long Riverfront Blues Festival held each August.

Guitar exhibits, paint-your-own-guitar crafts, Gary Allegretto’s Harmonikids workshops and free admission to children under 12 with an adult make the Riverfront Blues Festival appealing to families. This is the only event the city charges admission for. “What we collect in tickets pays for about 60 percent of the artists’ fees,” says Tina Betz, director of the Office of Cultural Affairs.

“Diamond State Blues Society does a great job of bringing in bands from around the country,” says festival attendee Ann Miller of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, who’s been going to the festival for five years. “They book a variety, from guitar blues to harmonica blues to horns. This festival is a classic.”

John Ferro has been selling his sterling handcrafted jewelry at the festival for three years. “Given the size and scope of this festival, it’s very well attended,” he says. “The people who run it are extremely nice, I love the music, and it’s a great venue.”

The DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival

The year 2008 will mark the 20th anniversary of the DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, “the largest free music festival in the region—perhaps on the East Cost,” says Betz. The seven-day event, held each June, honors the memory of local jazz legend Clifford Brown.

“We present, on average, about 100 artists every year, and we try to give an audience to our local and regional artists,” Betz says. “It gives them an opportunity to claim that they opened for a headliner like Branford Marsalis or Stanley Clarke.”

Over the week, 35,000 to 50,000 people arrive at Rodney Square with their folding chairs and blankets. After so many years and so many acts, “It would be real easy to just book bands without being thoughtful about it,” says Betz. “We try to program the week so that it’s different each year and the draw is different for each night. The finale on Saturday has a cumulative effect as the festival builds to its conclusion, drawing from the variety of jazz genre performed throughout that week,” says Betz, who serves as both musical curator and educator of the festival.

“What I put out front is always the artistic integrity of what we do,” Betz says. “That’s really important to me for the sustainability of the artistic good.”

Art On The Town and re:fresh

Art on the Town—or The Art Loop—has continued monthly for nearly 20 years, providing opportunities to view the works of regional, national and, sometimes, world-renowned artists in 30 venues citywide.

“We encourage performing arts to be part of the experience, as well,” says Betz.

Except for January, July and August, Art on the Town is held on the first Friday night of each month. Host venues provide complimentary receptions for participants. The city provides a free shuttle.

“There are some very contemporary artists out there,” says Jeni Barton, coordinator of Art on the Town. “The Art Loop, by including the contemporary artist, breathes life into the art scene overall.”

Art Loop participants receive a card, which gets stamped at each venue they visit. With five stamps by the time of the re:fresh after party, they may redeem it for a ticket to Theatre N, free admission to another venue or a cocktail.

Attendance at the re:fresh party has reached 375, with estimates for Art Loop attendance at up to 900 people. The addition of music and performance art has added a whole new dimension. Deejays are required to spin vinyl because it’s a show in and of itself. People crowd around to see, so there’s always a chance of a spontaneous break dancing event.

Vendemmia Wine Festival

“Vendemmia Wine Festival is a great Sunday afternoon of relaxing in the park, enjoying some of the best foods and pastries in Wilmington, and some of the best wines from around the world,” says Lance Lowenstein, president of Lowenstein Events Marketing Group.

Vendemmia, an annual event of the Societa da Vinci, returns all profits from to the community through family assistance, educational and cultural grants. The society preserves Italian heritage in Delaware.

Vendemmia takes place on Columbus Day Weekend at Tubman-Garrett Park on the Riverfront. More than 2,000 people turn out to sample food from 20 local restaurants and bakeries and wine from area distributors. Homemade wine contests and Italian gravy contests ensue while people enjoy live music.

Theatre N at Nemours

Before Theatre N, there hadn’t been a movie theater in Wilmington since 1982. “The mayor had been talking about having a movie theater in Wilmington for years,” says Betz. An attainable goal? An independent film theater.

They approached the Buccini-Pollin Group, which had acquired the Nemours Building and its theater space, with the idea. With a little bit of elbow grease and a few renovations, the intimate theater soon opened. Theatre N operates as a non-profit, showing films mostly on weekends.

“Ice Box Talk” is an after-show discussion moderated by Paul Lewis of WJBR-FM 99.5 after the 8 p.m. show on the first Friday and Saturday of each month. The films make for lively discussions that are always a good time.

The Full Frame Independent Film Festival presented by Emerging Pictures is a new-found favorite of film lovers in Wilmington. The annual four-day film event, hosted by Theatre N at Nemours, offers a film curator’s selection of eight to 10 films from around the country.

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