From The Publisher: Artful Approach

The Arts matter.

Well, of course they matter, you’re thinking. How profound, Jerry. The Arts matter. Wow! And we all need oxygen to breathe. And food and water to subsist.

Please, dear Out & About publisher, tell me you have something more. Surely, if you expect me to keep reading, you must have a deeper point to make with this column.

Well, I do, but it is best made with the assistance of the creative coalition we have assembled on pages 21-23. Out & About asked each of these individuals to share their thoughts — in 100 words of less — on the proposition: Why the Arts matter.

No one passed on the opportunity.

In fact, and you be the judge, their words are deeply personal — in some instances, profound.

They leave you with the sense that the Arts are as important as the oxygen we breathe — and the food and water we consume to subsist. The Arts, to borrow a line from Jerry Maguire, complete us.

“On a trip to Bali, I learned there is no word for artist because [there] everyone is an artist in some way,” shares Blue Streak owner Ellen Bartholomaus.

“Art tells us who we are,” adds actor-writer-director Keith Powell.

“We couldn’t exist in this world without art,” argues Sara A. Crawford, co-founder of The Original Coloure Collective.

No gray area in those statements. Or in the dozen others provided by our guest contributors.

Yet, we don’t treat the Arts as if we were all artists; like we couldn’t exist in the world without art. We treat the Arts more like dessert— a tasty option, but not an indispensable part of the meal.

Perhaps it’s time to reconsider. Post-pandemic, everything is being reinvented. Why not our approach to the Arts?

Instead of treating arts funding as philanthropy, why not treat it like an investment? And the beauty of this investment: the returns are both immediate and long-term.

The infographic you will find on page 24 reveals that arts and culture was a $919.7 billion dollar U.S. industry in 2019, representing 4.3% of the nation’s GDP and 5.2 million jobs. How much did the federal government invest in the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 2019 to get that return? A relatively modest $155 million.

What about Delaware? In fiscal year 2020-21, the state allocated almost $4 million to the Delaware Division of the Arts. That was supplemented by another $734,500 from the NEA. In return, the state’s arts and culture sector delivered more than $1 billion to Delaware’s economy and nearly 9,000 full-time jobs.

Now, that’s ROI.

Imagine, for a moment, what those returns could look like with a greater investment. Imagine what that could mean for Wilmington.

I have, and here are a just a few of the benefits I see from an increased commitment to Arts funding in our city:

• Helps us sell our city to outsiders. As Jessica Ball, executive director of the Delaware Arts Alliance states: “You cannot get the vast arts and cultural offerings and venues that you can get in Wilmington in other comparatively sized cities.” We need to market that.

• Helps us sell our city to insiders. Expand free arts events such as the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, Art on the Town, Drumming Circles … . Make regular free arts events a privilege of living in Wilmington (Montreal does an enviable job of this.). These also provide paying gigs for our resident artists.

• Helps us redirect the paths of underserved youngsters through creative inspiration. Enhance the resources of front-line organizations such as Reed’s Refuge, Teen Warehouse, Christina Cultural Arts Center…The success stories these organizations can share will bring you to tears.

• Helps bridge the racial and socio-economic divide. Many city residents have never set foot in some of our renowned arts centers. They either don’t feel welcome, can’t afford the tickets, don’t like the programming, or didn’t hear about it. So, provide funding that rewards organizations for breaking down these barriers. The benefit is mutual: arts organizations expand their audience; residents feel more connected to these institutions.

• Helps support efforts already underway to promote a creative economy. Wilmington Alliance’s place-based initiatives are a great example — from transforming vacant lots to community gathering places to repurposing abandoned homes and buildings for artist workspaces.

• Helps beautify our city by challenging artists to transform unsightly structures and areas to public works of art. The artists get a job, and we get a more attractive city.

• Helps with workforce reentry programs for everyone from the previously incarcerated to those in dire need of a change. Creative Visions Factory and Next Fab are excellent examples of this work in action. More opportunities exist.

These are not novel ideas. Nor are they initiatives that haven’t received some financial support.

However, what I’m suggesting is that we’ve run the numbers, now let’s increase the funding on an investment with proven returns.

What’s the downside, we have too much art? Is there such a thing?

— Jerry duPhily

So, what do you think? Please comment below.