Delaware creates right medium for arts funding

 

DOVER — A recent report gave Delaware high marks for arts funding.

According to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, the state ranked third in the nation for its state arts agency appropriations in fiscal year 2016.

Audience members file into the Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover for last month’s “Eyecons” with female impersonator Christopher Peterson. The show served as a benefit to help raise money for programs presented by The Schwartz Center. (Mobius New Media/Jorge Del Fabbro)

Audience members file into the Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover for last month’s “Eyecons” with female impersonator Christopher Peterson. The show served as a benefit to help raise money for programs presented by The Schwartz Center. (Mobius New Media/Jorge Del Fabbro)

The association’s report said the calculations take per capita funding into account; each state arts agency’s appropriation must be used to serve the entire population of its state.

Paul Weagraff, the director of the Division of the Arts, said the ranking is a tribute to the state’s financial commitment to the arts.

Delaware receives about $3.3 million each year in state funds, Mr. Weagraff said.

It receives about $670,000 in federal funds from the National Endowment for the Arts.

From there, the state Division of the Arts has several grant programs that target four groups: arts organizations, community-based organizations, schools and individual artists.

In Kent County, grants were awarded this year to a variety of applicants including the Bowers Beach Maritime Museum, the Dover Library, Dover Art League and the Delaware Friends of Folk.

There are a number of reasons to support the arts, Mr. Weagraff said. Organizations not only provide programming — from concerts to exhibitions — they enrich community life with festivals and social activities. They also serve as a resource for schools teaching the arts.

For the Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover, which received $80,000 in general operating support, building the community is an important goal, especially as it impacts the development of downtown Dover.

“In any community, there needs to be attractions that create vitalization and participation. One of the best things that the arts do is that,” said Sydney Arzt, the executive director at the Schwartz Center.

“…we hope to allow it (the Schwartz Center) to become the cultural anchor for this area.”

The center tries to serve children as well as adults, she said, as well as engage students from nearby colleges, provide opportunities for education and focus on the multi-cultural nature of the community.

“As a cultural center, that’s what each one of us is striving to do,” Ms. Arzt said.

“It doesn’t change from community to community. We all have the same larger picture as I just described it, and the importance to our particular areas.”

The Schwartz Center is also an outlet for socialization, she said.

“With the advent of the current drift toward communication tools, those tools become individual ways to socialize,” she said.

“One can sit in front of a computer and there’s just a relationship between you and the computer. But a theater atmosphere and an arts atmosphere encourages socialization eye to eye, people to people and it’s not an isolated experience.”

When people or businesses are looking for a place to relocate, Mr. Weagraff said, the cultural attractions there are one of the first things they consider.

The arts sector also supports nearly 4,000 jobs in Delaware, he said.

The arts support many related jobs, he said — when people attend a show, for instance, they may eat at a restaurant or stay at a hotel nearby.

“The arts employ a lot of people. A lot of that money goes into salaries in one or the other,” said Charles Guerin, the executive director of the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover.

“That all funnels back to state Delaware in the form of income tax and other forms of revenue.”

The state has also remained committed to individual artists, Mr. Weagraff said, even at a time when other states cut their grant programs.

“There would be no arts organizations if there weren’t artists creating and producing the arts,” he said.

In a small state like Delaware, the division can be “accessible to and connected with” the arts organizations and the communities it serves, he said.

It’s easy to promote collaborations and help organizations with a variety of needs.

“I think that’s another one of the advantages we have in Delaware. Everyone knows everybody,” he said.

A combination of factors have helped make the arts flourish in Delaware, Mr. Weagraff said.

The Delaware Arts Alliance, a nonprofit committed to advocating for the arts, makes presentation each year to the Joint Finance Committee of the state legislature.

And when it reaches out to people, they’re receptive to the message.

“I think awareness has definitely gone up in recent years,” said Dr. Carrie Gray, president of the Delaware Arts Alliance Board of Directors.

“We focused quite a bit on the legislature in terms of the awareness building early on and then in the last two years have turned our focus to the broader scope of the general public.”

She said the alliance tries to show legislators the impact of the arts in their own districts, highlighting local organizations and artists to paint the picture in a granular way.

Since its founding in 2009, the alliance has also hosted speaking events and organized advocacy programs throughout the state.

The alliance also participates in National Arts Advocacy Day, which impacts funds provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.

“The board and the staff have been working collaboratively with a number of key partners around the state to raise the profile of the importance of the arts to the community at large, to children in terms of education, to development in terms of the marketability of our state,” Dr. Gray said.

“…(with) this administration of Gov. Markell and prior administrations as well, we have a really excellent track record in Delaware of being supportive of the arts and that’s important for a lot of reasons,” she said, “but I hope that it will certainly continue into the next governor’s administration.”

For local arts organizations, grants and donations are vital.

“In term of funding, if the arts are not supported, we would be unable to present the kind of entertainment opportunities we have at the ticket prices that we do,” Ms. Arzt said.

“When entertainers travel they incur lots of expense and so we have to be able to meet those expenses in order to present those particular acts. Without additional funding for us, our prices would not be affordable.”

At the Biggs Museum, which receives $12,000 for education resources and $100,500 for general operating support, “we’re really grateful for that funding,” Mr. Guerin said.

“I’m relatively new to Delaware and it is wonderful to be in a state where the state recognizes the importance of the arts and does it best to funnel resources in that direction.”

“This is not about us,” Mr. Guerin said. “It’s about providing something for the community.”

Without the arts, Ms. Arzt said, the world would be “dull, less informed, less excited, less participatory and less motivated to reach outside of our own individual worlds.”

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