3 Delaware arts groups get special federal funding through NEA

Opera Delaware's Al Fresco Arias

Patrons graduated from car seats to camp chairs at OperaDelaware’s Al Fresco Arias Thursday at its Wilmington studios. Photo by Brendan Cooke.

Thanks to $50,000 federal grants, OperaDelaware will pay for two full-time staff positions, Delaware Shakespeare will be able to hire four people to help it do more online and the Delaware Art Museum will be able support some salaries.

The three First State arts organizations all got grants from the National Endowment for the Arts’s share of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security — or CARES — Act.

Another organization, State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education, also got $50,000 to have a convention in Delaware this fall.

The grants were announced earlier this month.

 

The NEA, a federal agency responsible for funding and promoting art institutions, was awarded $45 million in CARES money. The four organizations in Delaware are part of 855 art organizations nationwide given the relief money. 

“The funding is exclusively for maintaining staff positions,” said Brendan Cooke, the general director of OperaDelaware. “With it we’re able to fund two full time staff positions.”

At the Delaware Art Museum, “the funding is about 1% of our operating budget, so although it’s a help, it isn’t sufficient to support all our needs,” said Molly Giordano, the interim head of the museum. 

The museum just opened up to the public again, complete with required masks and social distancing.

 

But some performing venues, such as The Grand Opera House, OperaDelaware and Delaware Shakespeare, can’t open up. They can only bring in a fraction of the audience if they follow state guidelines, and it’s not enough people to support the usual programming.

So, they’ve come up with alternatives. 

Delaware Shakespeare is in the middle of a three-week virtual festival to replace — sort of — its annual production in the park. OperaDelaware is offering Al Fresco Arias sung outside at its studios in Wilmington and elsewhere. The Grand is offering Concerts by Car in Frawley Stadium. but just announced it will layoff 60 percent of its staff in August to help curtail expenses, and said inside shows will not start for nine months or more.

“Our firm belief here is that opera is best experienced live,” Cooke said. “Right now, we’re capitalizing the nice weather to bring people live shows.”

 

OperaDelaware will be pivoting to an online format sometime in mid-fall, although they do not yet know what that will look like, he said. 

Cooke said that the NEA funding allows them to do all of this because they don’t have to worry about funding themselves only from profits of the shows. 

“There’s a lot of logistics to this (doing a socially distanced show) and being able to keep part of our staff hired has allowed us to expand our outdoor experience,” Cooke said.

Delaware Shakespeare is taking a similar approach.

 

“We haven’t had to think about letting people go,” said David Stradley, the producing artistic director. 

“The big thing it has allowed us to do is bring on about four more members for virtual programming while we are in the pandemic, “ Stradley said. “We’ve been doing online content since about mid-March; we have been having artists read Shakespearian sonnets and posting it online.”

Its live-sonnet-a-day program has gotten 30,000 views since they began, he said. In a normal year, the organization usually only serves 5,000 to 6,000 people a year. 

“I think we will see more theater work online. We will see hybrid models of online and in person,” he said. “It will stick with us because it’s an easy thing to do.”

 

Delaware Shakespeare’s (Mostly) Virtual Festival, which runs through Aug. 2, is a mix of online events and a couple of in-person ones.  

The Delaware Art Museum also is mixing things up, including bringing back one exhibit dealing with race and police to coincide with the protests after George Floyd’s death and the rise of talk about systemic racism and bias. 

“These grants will support our operating expenses so that our staff can continue designing and implementing virtual and in-person programs for the immediate future,” Giordano said. “In particular, these grants are supporting partial staff salaries in July and August for our Learning & Engagement, Curatorial and External Affairs Departments.” 

 

The Museum has been offering virtual concerts, artist talks and classes in place of the traditional in-person museum experience.

Like other arts groups, it’s fighting to save itself because it believes it is a necessary element of the community.

“Organizations like the museum are needed to restart a thriving economy,” Giordano said. “Through the Delaware Arts Alliance, the Delaware arts community is speaking to our elected officials and decision makers about how to keep our important industry alive and moving forward during this unprecedented time.” 


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Betsy Price

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