|by Doug Yetter|
|Creating a Cultural Corridor
I began the discussion regarding the creation of a local Performing Arts Center in my last column, and feel the need to continue that discussion. In that column, I made the request that anyone who wanted to be involved in the forming of a center should write to me. Dozens of people responded and asked to be involved in a citizen's discussion group to help guide the process. As we all know, a well-informed public makes well-informed choices.
A performing arts center in Southern Delaware can become the cultural home for the community. Currently, a number of non-profit, arts-based companies operate in venues that are not specifically designed for performance. These companies don't all have administrative office space or a common, collaborative gathering area where shared ideas and talents could lead to products benefiting the entire population.
A resident, professional company of performing and creative artists would anchor the season of the performing arts center and set the standard for administrative and production support for all other community-based organizations and allow the arts to be presented in a truly professional environment. The resident company can employ performers that teach classes for an Arts Institute so that students of all ages make the connection between the study of the craft and the outcome of their studies. The administrative staff (box office, development, management) will not only support the resident company and the management of the facility, but will also offer guidance and support to all community-based organizations through a common box office, funding seminars and shared office space where ideas can flow easily and naturally. The creative artists who support the resident company will hold, as a priority, the flexibility and generosity to produce all community-based organizations in their best possible "light," offering design guidance and oversight.
An Arts Institute would be an integral part of the performing arts center, offering classes for students of all ages. Connections can be made with local school districts so that students may attend classes in theatre performance, theatre production and dance as part of the district's performing arts curriculum. After-school programs for children and adults will be taught to raise not only an appreciation of the arts, but also to train performers who may eventually be employed by the professional resident company. The after-school classes will offer scholarship opportunities for any student in need to ensure that the arts can be a part of every student's life regardless of their financial situation. Years ago, when Beverly Sills was steering the New York City Opera, she insisted that tickets were sold for the same cost as a movie. Following her lead, the arts in Sussex County must be available to all.
Can our area truly support a center like this? Recent studies of Sussex County trends (Sussex: Today and Tomorrow conferences, the Sussex County Arts Study, and the Sussex County Comprehensive Plan) all point to a rapidly growing county with unique demographics and needs. That information, along with current newsworthy trendsthe downturn of the housing, construction, and retail industries presents a new vision for the economic and cultural future of Sussex.
The demographic information and wealth trends seem to indicate that the most-suited form of recreation for existing and incoming residents, as well as tourists, is visual and performing arts and similar cultural events. Added to that, the fastest growing industry in the County is Leisure/Hospitality. The introduction of a Performing Arts Center would offer the area upscale employment that will enhance the business climate and the wealth generation of the county by building an employment sector that is management/artistic oriented. Much auxiliary professional growth in the arts will occur as well as various supporting industries.
The arts community can lead the initiative to create a collaborative "Cultural Corridor" in Sussex County. The planned Joshua Freeman Performing Arts Center in Fenwick Island, and the 900-seat theatre planned as part of the new Cape Henlopen High School, would be complemented by a centrally located, multi-purpose Arts Center in the area. This Cultural Corridor can be the impetus for a new vision for Sussex County and I'm confident that this county has the resources to bring it to fruition.
The projected population of Sussex County in the year 2025 will be between 235,000 to 250,000, up from the current population of approximately 184,000 and 52.1% of the population will be age 45 and above! There is also the massive seasonal influx of population. In 2004 it was estimated that approximately 180,000 visitors came to eastern Sussex during any one season and that the "season" has lengthened to include nearly seven months of the year. It is easy to envision that by 2025 this could mean the addition of 225,000 in seasonal population. It may scare us a bit trying to imagine what Route 1 would be like with 45,000 extra visitors a year, but the infrastructure will need to grow with the need.
By elevating the role of arts and entertainment, higher levels of employment could be fostered in higher-paying jobs. Arts initiatives employ many higher-paying careers including positions in management and administration. New jobs would be created for performers, accountants, directors, producers, advertisers, designers (sound, lights, costumes, and sets), carpenters, film production...the list goes on and on! In addition, this Cultural Corridor would affect other local industries such as travel, tourism, lodging, transportation, group tours, concierge services, restaurants and retail shopping. The career opportunities based on these entrepreneurial enterprises are virtually limitless.
As I stated in my last column, somewhere right under the ground, there is a building just waiting for the right amount of encouragement and support to grow. If you have ideas, or would like to be involved in the creation of a new Performing Arts Center in our area, please contact me. Together we can make this happen.
As always, the local galleries are filled with wonderful art just waiting to fill that perfect, though empty, spot in your home. Use one of those rainy afternoons that we're bound to experience to shop for a piece of art or just browse. Maps to the Mosaic collective of galleries are available at virtually every gallery in town. I took my own advice recently and shopped 10 of the 12 members of the collective and had a marvelous time!
A few theatrical events around town as wellSouth Pacific runs July 25-26 at Cape Henlopen High in Lewes (the Sunday matinee is sold out). The run continues at four, free outdoor performances in Fenwick and Ocean View presented by the Freeman Foundation before heading to the Schwartz Center in Dover on August 7-8. Call the Clear Space box office at 302-644-3810 for reservations or more information.
The new Theatre of the Arts (20 Baltimore Avenue www.RehobothBeachTheater.com) has Broadway Feverand this is a fever that may be contagiousthrough August. For reservations call 302-227-9310.
And, needless to say, the annual CAMP Rehoboth Follies, hosted by the brilliant Christopher Peterson, occurs July 26. I'm certain this is something which will be difficult to miss in this edition and definitely shouldn't be missed!
Doug Yetter can be reached at dyetter@ClearSpaceProductions.org.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 18, No. 10 July 25, 2008