The Arts Spice Up Your Summer Park Visits

Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald

Beginning June 15, daily programs will take place in venues across the City

Summer is upon us, which means it’s time to gather family and friends and head to one of Wilmington’s 20-plus city parks for picnicking, barbecuing, playground time—and experiencing the arts.

Yes, you read that correctly. Summertime in Wilmington heralds the return of Summer in the Parks—a city-wide presentation of live, interactive visual and performing arts. This year marks the third for the program, which is sponsored by the City of Wilmington and presented by The Grand Opera House with support from the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

Summer in the Parks brings a variety of cultural programming – dance, music, theatre, visual arts and crafts – to communities that may not have access to these experiences on a regular basis.

According to a summary report from The Grand, last year’s participation numbers were quite impressive: 35 individual artists and organizations presented 96 events over the nine-week program, reaching nearly 5,000 area residents. The community response was positive. Wilmington City Councilwoman Loretta Walsh wrote in a note to The Grand, “I cannot begin to thank you…for promoting the arts in so many of our neighborhoods. So many of our children have little exposure to any type of arts, and you all are just helping so much to fill that hole. Well done!”

Children enjoy playing the vibraphone with Philly Vibe Duo and Harvey Price at Holloway Park. (Photo courtesy of The Grand Opera House)

Children enjoy playing the vibraphone with Philly Vibe Duo and Harvey Price at
Holloway Park. (Photo courtesy of The Grand Opera House)

“We’re accomplishing what we set out to do, which was to bring positive creative experiences and activities into the parks,” says Pam Manocchio, director of Community Engagement at The Grand. “The communities have been extremely responsive, and many people are asking about [the return of program]. They can’t wait for us to come back. And now we’re developing friendships with parents and their kids—we know their names; we get to see them every week.”

For example, One Love Park was a new venue in the program last year. “Residents there were very appreciative of our presence,” recalls Manocchio. “Kids [who attended programs] from Love Park made us a giant thank-you card, which was lovely.”

Manocchio also appreciated the assistance of community volunteers who helped distribute information to neighbors and encourage attendance. “Getting community buy-in and involvement is key. We cannot do it without them,” she says.

This year, Summer in the Parks runs from June 15 through Aug. 13 and will offer morning and afternoon programs every day of the week in 10 of the park venues, including spots like Tilton Park, Barbara Hicks Park, Kosciuszko Park and Haynes Park. What’s more, the Department of Parks and Recreation plans camp activities in several areas that will feed into Summer in the Parks offerings. The department also will continue to offer its Food Service Program, which provides free, nutritional breakfast and lunch to community children throughout the summer.

Last year, some artists’ programs reinforced the City’s programs as well. Rob Young’s Nature Jams performances perfectly complemented Parks and Recreation’s offerings. “For our music, which focuses on teaching kids healthy eating [habits] and positive character, we couldn’t ask for a better audience,” he says. “The kids are enthusiastic, ready to get involved, and are grateful to have music in their backyard.” Young says he was overwhelmed by last year’s receptive audience and a program that truly supports local artists.

Manocchio says the 2015 schedule will again represent diverse arts disciplines, including theatre, music, dance, storytelling and visual arts. Daytime programs are more geared toward children, she says, “but evenings are truly family friendly. We see more and more adults coming to the evening concerts.”

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A group of children learn basic stage combat with Delaware Shakespeare Festival at Haynes Park. (Photo courtesy of The Grand Opera House)

Summer in the Parks is an ideal vehicle for Wilmingtonians to discover new arts experiences and for arts organizations to expand their potential reach. David Stradley, artistic director of the Delaware Shakespeare Festival, delights in the audience interaction and awareness that the program provides. “It’s a wonderful way for us to celebrate that Shakespeare is for everyone,” he says. “Most of our audiences tend to be younger, and people will tell you that young kids can’t get into Shakespeare. But we’ve found the kids are more than ready to jump in, play with the actors and be entertained by the scenes.”
More than 40 artists and organizations have applied to participate in the program this time around, including 16 first-time applicants. They hail from Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Manocchio notes that nearly half the artists on this year’s roster have participated in the program since the start.

Some artists confirmed for this season (as of press time): Alfie Moss & the Dexter Koonce Project; the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts; the Delaware Art Museum; the Delaware Shakespeare Festival; Diamond State Concert Band; E. Shawn Qaissaunee & The Q Factor; First State Ballet Theatre; Matson Run Pickers of The Music School of Delaware; Illstyle & Peace; IVA; Philly Vibe Trio; TAHIRA; Pieces of a Dream; Nature Jams, and Jill Carpenter & Walt the Street Dog.

Ashley SK Davis is executive and artistic director of Pieces of a Dream, a Delaware-based modern dance company that has been a Summer in the Parks participant since its inception. “As an artist, I feel it’s a great opportunity to share our work with children and hopefully light a spark and a passion for dance—or any art form—in the future,” she says.
“It’s always an honor and a pleasure to perform for Summer in the Parks,” says TAHIRA, nationally recognized storyteller who lives in Claymont. “This program not only helps me fulfill my mission to use storytelling to empower communities but also allows underserved audiences to benefit from the transformative power of the arts and provides a safe, fun alternative for youth and their families during the summer.”

Manocchio says overseeing Summer in the Parks has opened her eyes to parts of the city she had never before visited. “I’m absolutely more aware of what goes on in our city as a whole,” she says. “I understand how difficult it is to create change in some neighborhoods. Even if we affect a few lives for a few hours, that’s a great feeling.”

“We’ve got a good thing going here,” she smiles. “I just want to keep building it and make it stronger.”

So, what do you think? Please comment below.