Making the Arts Accessible


For three decades, the DDOA has reached into every corner of Delaware by funding innumerable programs, institutions, and individual artists

At Art Therapy Express (ATE), Haley Shiber, 23, gets more than art therapy. She gets special brushes and tools to help her paint with her hands or her head.

Born with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder, the Smyrna resident has limited muscle control and is unable to use her arms and hands on her own. She is one of approximately 500 children and adults with physical, emotional, or intellectual disabilities who rely on adaptive tools to create art at ATE.

A grant from the Delaware Division of the Arts (DDOA) makes this possible.

“Without their financial support, ATE would not be able to purchase arm slings, holding tools and splints, and adoptive brushes and easels to allow participants with physical challenges to paint with their hands, arms, head, feet or wheelchairs,” says ATE Executive Director Lisa Bartoli. “That grant is what keeps us afloat.”

In its 10 years of operation, ATE has received more than $110,000 from DDOA.

Shiber is just one of thousands of Delawareans whose lives have been impacted by the DDOA. That impact may be direct, as in Shiber’s case, or indirect, if you have enjoyed a concert in a state park, or a play at the Wilmington Drama League, or if your child has had the opportunity to attend a cultural event.

Founded in 1989, the DDOA can look back on three decades of service during which it has issued millions of dollars in grants to support numerous art and cultural programs, institutions, and individual artists. It is dedicated to keeping the arts alive and accessible to Delawareans regardless of race, socioeconomic or health status.

Multiple Anniversaries

This is a year of anniversaries for three art-related agencies in the First State. The DDOA (now 30) partners with the Delaware State Art Council, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and the Delaware Art Alliance, which is marking its 10th. Their collective goal is to invest in the arts and thereby contribute to a stronger economy and improve lives.

“With support from the National Endowment for the Arts and through appropriations from the Delaware General Assembly, the DDOA invests more than $3 million annually in arts programming statewide, serving more than 1 million people,” says the agency’s director, Paul Weagraff.

Studies show that supporting the arts is important for several reasons. Arts put people to work, attract tourism, stimulate local businesses, are good for mental and emotional wellness, and encourage career and life skills by teaching analytical reasoning, problem-solving, and teamwork.

The arts also build bridges across cultures to unify people despite race, ethnicity, and ages. Says Weagraff: “The arts bring communities of different cultures together. The Korean Festival and Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) are examples of multi-cultural activities held at the Delaware Art Museum of people sharing their cultures outside of their traditional communities.”

The arts also contribute to community vitality, helping to recruit and retain talented people seeking a place to live. And they’ve had far-reaching economic effects on the community (see sidebar). 

For Haley Shiber, art is “love and family.” Photo courtesy of Debbie Shiber

“The arts benefit all Delawareans, from children to senior citizens to rural communities to the cities,” says J. Mack Wathen, chair of the Arts Council. “The arts, in all forms, including music, dance, theatre and visual, represent a universal language. We are very fortunate in Delaware to have a rich diversity and high quality of art and cultural activities.”

Jerry Hebbel, co-founder of Gable Music Ventures in Wilmington and co-creator of the annual Ladybug Festival, has seen his creation benefit from the DDOA largesse. Last year, Gable was able to increase the number of artists who participated in the Ladybug Festival in Milford when its partner, Downtown Milford, Inc., a revitalizing non-profit, received a $5,000 grant from the DDOA.

“It represented a significant chunk of the budget we had to pay artists,” says Hebbel. “Without it, the number of artists would have been lower. It allowed us to also step up to a bigger level of talent.”

Forty artists performed and more than 2,500 people attended Ladybug, from as far away as Norway.

“It’s hard to get private funding, so having any agency that funds arts is fortunate,” says Hebbel. “Without this funding, you would see fewer events happening in town.”

Deciding on Allocations

In 2016, the DDOA released Design Delaware 2.0, a strategic and operational plan. It helps the agency decide how to utilize its funds and allocate resources based on current and projected needs in the arts community. It allows the Division to gather information from focus groups, says Weagraff. “The plan serves as a guide to us for the work that we do.” 

To mitigate those needs, the DDOA offers funding to individual artists 18 and older who are not enrolled in a degree-granting program, and it helps fund non-profit organizations, colleges, universities, and government entities that promote, produce, present, or teach the arts. It supports public schools pre-K through 12, and charter, private, and parochial schools.

Last year, an education grant made it possible for more than 3,000 students from 25 schools throughout the state to get transportation to arts and cultural events. Funding also allowed more than 1,900 students to participate in Poetry Out Loud, and for others to attend Poets Laureate workshops conducted in 11 schools, reaching 4,000 people.

A $19,000 renovations grant allowed the Wilmington Drama League to upgrade and replace the theater’s light system last year.

And funding made it possible for Delaware Shakespeare to perform The Merchant of Venice at the Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution in New Castle.

Summer concerts and performances are now presented in nine state parks, including Trap Pond State Park in Laurel and Holts Landing State Park in Dagsboro. More than 30 public libraries across the state get funding to support performing arts shows offered as part of the libraries’ summer reading program.

“One of our goals in partnering with the Delaware Parks and Recreation is to bring the arts to rural areas where the arts may not be easily accessible,” says Weagraff. Partnering with the Division of Libraries brings the arts to areas with underperforming schools.

Often families answer “no” when asked if they attend other summer art programs besides those at the libraries, says Marie Cunningham, senior librarian at the Delaware Division of Libraries in Dover. “It (a library art or cultural program) could be their first at that point in time or it could be their only.”

Conducting Workshops

Besides funding, the agency offers a variety of workshops to guide and support artists and organizations. The workshops focus on technical assistance, training on fundraising, networking, marketing, or strategic planning.

At a workshop titled “No More Starving Artists,” Wilmington photographer Shannon Woodloe found out about the DDOA’s fellowship awards and decided to compete. She is one of 11 artists who this year won a $3,000 Emerging Artist award. The Division allocates $6,000 for Established Professionals and $10,000 for Masters.

With her award money, Woodloe bought a new computer, camera, and updated equipment. She was then able to print her photographs and exhibit them at three locations, including the Christina Cultural Arts Center in Wilmington.

Dennis Beach, who paints and creates elaborate sculptures, sometimes as high as eight feet, by manipulating plywood, says the $6,000 he received last year helped him maintain his life as an artist. “There is no regular paycheck in an artist’s life,” he says, “but there’s a lot of expenses—materials, paint, wood. So anything that can go directly to that is good. Any help that an art agency offers is great for all artists.”

Beach’s art is displayed at The Delaware Contemporary, Delaware Art Museum, and the Comcast Tech Center in Philadelphia.

Fiction writer Billie Travalini, who won the Masters fellowship this year, says the Fellowship allowed her to take a break from teaching this summer at Wilmington University and devote herself to writing. “It has also allowed me to give writing workshops, help organize a writing seminar, and coordinate the Lewes Creative Writers Conference, now in its 12th year,” says Travalini. “And it has helped me do all this without the stress that comes from juggling a job, family, and writing.”

The Division also offers Fellowships in folk art, jazz, choreography, literature, media arts, visual arts, and music.

In July, the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover exhibited work of Delaware’s Artist Fellows winners, as it has done for the past 19 years. In August the exhibit moves to CAMP Rehoboth in Rehoboth Beach and this month it moved to Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Wilmington.

Fellowship recipients who choose to can also have their work shown at the Mezzanine Gallery in the Carvel State Office Building, which is managed by the Division of the Arts.

“We have a gallery director who works with artists to install their exhibition each month,” says Weagraff. “Artists are selected from a Gallery Panel process held each spring.”

The Mezzanine Gallery is also part of the Wilmington Art Loop. Held the first Friday of each month, the Art Loop is a self-guided tour of the arts in galleries, museums, and local businesses throughout Downtown, Wilmington’s Westside and West End, Arden, Greenville, Westside, and Bellefonte.

Social media and online technology enable the DDOA to expand the promotion of artists, cultural and art events, and the Division’s programs, grants, and services to a wider audience. Upgrades include an Art Podcast, “meet the arts” videos, an Arts E-Newsletter, an App, an online artists roster, and—an online calendar listing the state’s attractions and cultural and art events.

The arts will be celebrated at the 2019 Art Summit at the Dover Downs Hotel and Casino in Dover on Oct. 28,  where the Division of the Arts and the State Arts Council will highlight their accomplishments over the last half century. Workshops, guest speakers and performances will be part of the celebration.

The 2019 Governor’s Awards for the Arts also will be presented during the Summit, with Gov. John Carney honoring individuals and organizations that have significantly impacted the state’s arts and cultural sector.

While the Summit will no doubt highlight the economic and cultural impact of the arts, Weagraff notes that their importance extends even further: “Art is an important way to bring people together creatively in an explorative way, not only to learn about art and culture but to engage individuals in communication, cooperation, and collaboration.”

And for Haley Shiber, art is “love and family.”

Division of Arts partners include: Delaware National Public Radio, Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement, News Radio 1450 WILM, and the Arts Consortium of Delaware.

For more information about the Division of the Arts grants, services, and programs, visit

Economic Impact

According to a 2015 study conducted by Americans for the Arts, the arts have a major impact on Delaware’s economy by supporting more than 4,000 full-time jobs, which ranks among the top 10 employers in the First State.

In addition, the industry leverages $46.3 million in event-related spending by its audiences, excluding the cost of admission to events. Event-related spending includes eating out, paying a babysitter, and buying gifts and souvenirs.

The arts generate $149.9 million in annual economic spending in Delaware and generate $10.5 million dollars in local and state revenue.

A study conducted in 2015 by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies shows that 87 percent of Americans believe arts and culture improve their quality of life.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.