I recently had the good fortune to address two sold-out audiences at The Baby Grand in order to demonstrate to them that we need to imagine The Grand for future generations, as previous generations imagined The Grand for us. As I looked out into the crowd, I could not help but to walk away inspired by how committed our friends and neighbors are to The Grand and to all of the non-profit performing arts institutions. It was heartening to see such a large cross-section of the community come out to support The Grand, OperaDelaware, the Delaware Symphony, and the First State Ballet Theatre. What is equally inspiring is to see feverish campaigns in every corner of the performing arts to revitalize their programs, improve their business models, to reconnect with the community, to make their case for relevance and to imagine their institutions into the hands of the next generation.
The event I addressed was emblematic of all that is good about Delaware. Hundreds came out to not only hear about the upcoming seasons, but to represent that they have been affected in some way by the performing arts. The performing arts give us an opportunity to laugh and a safe place to cry, it takes us to foreign lands, and sends us back into history, it gives us an opportunity to address what is wrong in society and a reason to celebrate all that is right.
I wonder if the founders of The Grand had any idea of what they would inspire 140 years later. Soon after the Civil War, The Grand was created despite the fact that the community did not support a public display of performing arts. Singing, dancing and playing instruments in public were not seen as good behavior and in some circles were considered quite deviant. The original founders were considered rebels. Regardless, in 1871, our town fathers and mothers gathered along Market Street and opened the Grand Opera House. Hosting Buffalo Bill and John Philip Sousa, this facility laid the foundation for performing arts in our region for decades to come. Thank God for rebels.
Sadly, this elegant building once sat in complete disrepair, nearing abandonment and demolition. Essentially closed in the 60s, The Grand was rescued by a group of devoted volunteers in the early 1970s. They were viewed by many as crazy. They wrote letters to neighbors, cajoled politicians, convinced skeptical business leaders, and made the case to restore this asset to her former glory. Their imagination gave rise to the current collaboration between The Grand, OperaDelaware, the Delaware Symphony, and the First State Ballet Theatre. Thank God for crazy!
The result of imagining during the 1870s and the 1970s is evident. We now have a non-profit home for the performing arts. By being a mission-driven not-for-profit, The Grand considers it a core obligation to deliver affordable programs to all members of the community. Even though only ticket revenue only cover 50% of the cost of operating The Grand, The Grand is able to host thousands of school children, regardless of their ability to pay. Equally impressive is The Grand’s collaboration with educators on curriculum. All this is done thanks to grass roots giving by thousands throughout our community.
We will grow as a society by banding together to support the causes that improve our lives. In Delaware, patrons of the performing arts are gathering as testimony that their lives have been affected in positive ways and they plan to pass these treasures on to future generations. Maybe some are rebels, maybe some are crazy. But well-behaved people rarely make history, so they all deserve a standing ovation. I can’t wait to see the second act.