Town pledges utility coverage for Millsboro Art League

The Millsboro Art League has been a community staple in the area since 1988. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

MILLSBORO — Following a parade of support for the arts, the town of Millsboro answered Millsboro Art League’s rent reduction request with a compromise that paints a better financial picture for the nonprofit.

Millsboro Town Council, at its Oct. 7 meeting, agreed to cover electric and propane bills for one year as a tradeoff to the league’s request for significant or complete rent reduction for its Main Street gallery base in an aging structure owned by the town.

“Personally, I’m not a fan of the significant reduction in the rent. My concern is what would do to rental values throughout the town that could be harmful to other landlords and property owners,” said Millsboro Town Manager Sheldon Hudson. “I think a possible compromise that I would suggest you might want to consider is covering more of the utilities, which will still be effectively money in the art league’s pocket, without effectively adversely impacting the rent market.”

“That was really a surprise to me,” said Debra Doucette, president of the Millsboro Art League board of directors. “I had no idea what they were going to do. It surprised me – in a nice way.”

“Most people assume that the town of Millsboro provides that building for the art league,” said Ms. Doucette.

Council authorized Mr. Hudson and Millsboro Mayor Michelle Truitt to represent the town in the agreement.

“Personally, I am all for paying the utility bill, propane bill,” said councilman John Thoroughgood.

Councilman Larry Gum had concerns that absorbing the rent for one nonprofit might set a precedent.

“I have no problem helping. Obviously, there is benefit coming here,” said Mr. Gum. “You get caught in a situation where somebody else comes in and says, ‘Well, you provided for them. I have an organization.’ A tradeoff seems like a fair way to go.”

While the monthly lease of $550 remains, the town will provide utilities — the town already provides water — and propane, which could very well equal the monthly rent.

“It will be a wash because with propane bill and the electric being covered, those are two bills that are so variable,” Ms. Doucette said. “It is much easier to plan for the $550 a month rent than it is to plan for whether or not this month you’re going to have a $1,000 propane bill. It was a very nice solution.”

In addition, the town also agreed to pay for some much-needed repairs to the structure, which in previous incarnations was a library, a dress shop and a post office, among others.

“A lot of wear and tear,” Ms. Doucette said.

The agreement is for one year and will be revisited in 2020.

A longtime staple in downtown Millsboro, the Millsboro Art League caters to aspiring artists. Its mission statement “is to promote interest in, stimulate knowledge of, and create passion for the creative arts by encouraging involvement, sharing expertise, and lending support to aspiring and established artists.”

The league does this through such activities as Friday Fun Night, which are held monthly, and summer camps.

It also fills an artistic void for school students, who sometimes are unable to fit art into their schedules.

“Our schools’ schedules are such that our kids do not get the opportunity always to take art,” said Barbara Harris. “If they decide to do music, then it knocks out the art.”

“Since I am in band, I don’t get to take art,” said Sedona Ashman, a seventh-grader at Selbyville Middle School. “The art league is the next best thing.”

Sedona added the art league allows her to “interact with family meet new people.”

“Since band is a year-round exploratory, I can’t take art,” said Quintin Ashman, Sedona’s twin brother and seventh-grade classmate.

Their mom, Lisa Ashman, was among the parade of supporters who addressed council prior to the decision.

“This is the only chance for them to go and take a structured art class,” Ms. Ashman said, noting the value of the league’s programs, including Friday Fun Nights. “Fifteen dollars; you really can’t go anywhere for $15. It’s a great way to learn something new, spend time together away from technology, television, iPads and computers. It’s great place to look at the local talent.”

Millsboro resident Skip Claiborne is a league board member.

“I am local artist and a nationally recognized artist,” he said. “We need time to reorganize and better budget, better plan and we need a break with the rent so that we can do these things. Art is important. It is being cut in schools. We need a place where we can help kids and people have art in the community.”

Christie Cugno, day services director for The Salvation Army’s developmental disabilities program, shared with council the role Millsboro Art League plays in TSA’s Creative Hearts program, which has two goals.

“One was, help artists grow in their creativity and learn skills and create artwork they could be proud of. The second, share talent and artwork with community,” said Ms. Cugno. “Shortly after we started the program, we approached the Millsboro Art League to see if there was any type of collaboration we could do. Quickly they took us under their wing, and they have never looked back.”

On average there are about 20 classes per year, plus an annual show in August.

“This year we celebrated 10 years of art shows in their gallery. Artists with developmental disabilities are no different than any other artist. All they need is a creative spirit, a desire to create and a dedication to their craft,” Ms. Cugno said.

In the past two years, Creative Hearts artists have sold over 100 pieces of work, earning them more than $1,700.

Ms. Cugno said art league members are the biggest cheerleaders their artists have.

“They know when to help them. They know when to let them figure it out and they know when they need a hug,” she said. “And they know when to give them a high-five when they finish their next best masterpiece, or better yet when they sell their great masterpiece.”

The Millsboro Art League was incorporated in 1988. It was started by Alice Hudson, through space in the library. When the library moved to its new home, the art league remained.

Art league memberships are $35 per individual and $45 for household.

“We are still looking of course for more fundraising and more ways to bring in money so we can increase our programs,” said Ms. Doucette, noting the art league once received annual operating support grant funding from the Division of the Arts but was dropped for not meeting the income threshold.

“In order to have that ,you have to have income of over $16,000 a year,” said Ms. Doucette. “We fell short by less than $1,000. Which doesn’t sound like much but when you’re a small nonprofit art league it’s a substantial … when you’re trying to provide services in the area where you are more concerned with providing the art than getting high dollar for the classes.”

For more information, visit the Millsboro Art League website at – www.millsboroartleague.org – and its Facebook page.

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