By Ken Mammarella
Your input — as a patron of the arts, creator or business that caters to the creative economy — is desired in a groundbreaking survey of Delaware’s creative economy.
The Delaware Arts Alliance (DAA), a nonpartisan nonprofit, is running the survey through Oct. 15 at DelawareArtsAlliance.org/survey. The DAA says the survey is the first of its kind in the nation.
“Our hope with all this is that we show that the arts won’t exist on an island,” says Neil Kirschling, executive director of the alliance.
“This survey could only happen in a place like Delaware, because we’re so small and so well-connected,” says Jessica Ball, director of the Delaware Division of the Arts.
The DAA says the resulting Creative Economy and Cultural Tourism Recovery and Growth Plan, to be released by next summer, will map Delaware’s arts and culture offerings, analyze the sector’s economic impact, review regulatory policies and recommend ways to improve it all.
And it will create recovery plans for the state, all three counties and select Opportunity Zone municipalities (Wilmington, Middletown, Dover, Smyrna, Milford and Georgetown). Along with Newark (enriched in so many ways by the University of Delaware’s main campus) and Seaford, they are Delaware’s eight most populous municipalities.
“We’re hoping to produce a songbook that we can all be singing from,” Kirschling says.
The recovery refers back to funding from the federal Travel, Tourism & Outdoor Recreation program of the American Rescue Plan, for communities to recover from the pandemic.
In 2022, DAA got $1 million in federal money for the survey. Delaware announced at the same time six other grants: $3.25 million to the Riverfront Development Corp. to improve Wilmington’s Riverfront, $1.7 million to Delaware State University to promote its hospitality and tourism management degree, $752,000 to the Greater Wilmington Convention and Visitors Convention Bureau for marketing, $400,000 to Southern Delaware Tourism for marketing, $335,000 to Kent County Tourism for marketing and $300,000 to the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation for marketing.
Survey Says …
The survey uses seven UNESCO pairs of categories for the creative sector: audiovisual and interactive media; books and press; design and creative services; music recording and publishing; natural and cultural heritage; performance and celebration; and visual arts and crafts.
It then offers two dozen subcategories, including advertising, archaeological sites, architecture, archives, dance, circuses, fashion, galleries, graphic design, interior design, libraries, museums, music, newspapers, opera, photography, radio, recording studios, television, theater and video games and other interactive media. Plus: festivals, schools, retailers and rental companies that cater to any of the above.
“We’re being intentionally inclusive,” Kirschling says. “We’re using the term ‘creative economy’ to show all the businesses that rely on creativity and creative services. … It’s a pretty broad ecosystem.”
The 31-question survey for participants starts by asking for general information and then moves on to sections titled “participants and places,” “regulatory framework,” “cultural tourism,” “creatives and performers,” “demographic information” and “closing questions.” The survey for patrons is far shorter.
The state’s $1 billion creative sector represents 8,000 jobs and 1.4% of its gross domestic product, says Ball, citing work by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Compare that to a $1.02 trillion national creative sector (4.4% of the U.S. economy) and Delaware’s tourism industry is a $3.2 billion sector that employs 44,000.
A survey question suggests almost 20 ways that the state can help the creative sector. Ball says these suggestions include current practices, programs being piloted, and things note yet posed.
One prominent current effort involves grants to artists: $4.5 million this year, up dramatically from $3.265 million in pre-pandemic 2019. Pass-through federal funding requires a 1:1 match, but Delaware goes beyond that, she says. This year’s federal support is about $900,000.
One current effort that’s growing is DelawareScene.com, a division site that started as a calendar and is now also “a hub for jobs and opportunities,” she says. “We’re also taking a more active role in promoting artists as a whole. We know that this state has so many, yet there’s lots of room to grow.”
One prototype that addresses one of the survey suggestions is a career development program that is helping a cohort of three emerging artists “manage themselves as a business,” she says.
The alliance has contracted with a British company called Sound Diplomacy to manage the data collection, economic analysis and development of an action plan for government. Kirschling says Sound Diplomacy has run similar but limited surveys in other areas on, say, just music or just nightlife.
The map will use a digital geographic information system (GIS) to “help us define for the first time who we are as a sector, where we are and where there might be gaps and strengths,” he says.
Such GIS mapping is familiar for planning in other sectors, such as education, transportation and health. And maybe all this will suggest synergies between the creative sector and these other services.
In announcing the survey, Kirschling referred to “barriers for creatives.” In a follow-up interview, he says these barriers “can also be branded as opportunities.”
The survey will eventually lead to insights backed by data, but right now, anecdotally, he says such barriers/opportunities include individual artists who feel they must move to larger markets to succeed; organizations finding that their traditional funding from governments, donors and patrons is all drying up; and “the hoops to be jumped through” when starting, running and expanding businesses.
“What are the sustainable business models?” he asks. “What, for instance, makes it easy or hard to organize a large-scale event? What incentives are there for creative people or businesses to come to Delaware?”
Ten engagement captains will help promote the survey and organize focus groups. They are Akima A. Brown, a filmmaker and founder of Reel Families for Change; Gayle Dillman, founder of Gable Music Ventures; Jordyn Gum, a filmmaker and founder of Nantico Studios; Stephen Manocchio, an audio engineer and production manager; Michelle Peebles, a playwright and arts entrepreneur; Mike Rasmussen, co-owner of Painted Stave Distilling and Taco Jardin and a Smyrna council member; Sadé Truiett, a public relations specialist and founder of GIRL talk, a mentoring organization for teen girls; Angela Wagner, an entertainment attorney and talent agent; Chantal Whitehead-Scott, a program manager for leadership edge at JPMorgan Chase; and Nicodemus Williams, a singer/songwriter and behavior interventionist at Kuumba Academy Charter School.
Williams says he got involved because the survey involves his interests in “the arts, politics and engagement. There’s a need to recognize the arts on a wider spectrum and have it taken more seriously,” he says.
“I want to make sure I keep my family connected to the arts,” says Whitehead-Scott, a mother of two and a former member of the Choir School of Delaware board.
Looking Back, Looking Forward
“The state’s role in building up our art community demands that we work on multiple fronts simultaneously, and that work has only just begun,” says Sen. S. Elizabeth Lockman, a Wilmington Democrat who in 2020 formed the bipartisan, bicameral Arts and Culture Caucus with Rep. Bryan Shupe, a Milford Republican.
One front is money. The General Assembly, for example, voted in June to add $1 million to the Delaware Arts Trust Fund, which provides grants to the arts community.
Another is in support and leadership. “We are continuing to have open dialogues with artists and the institutions that support them about how we might be able to help encourage the development of a film and television production industry here in Delaware and how we can assist our nonprofit partners in securing affordable healthcare coverage,” Lockman says. She’s speaking from personal experience. She earned a bachelor’s degree in film and began her career as a production assistant for Lionsgate and Nickelodeon before joining Teleduction, a Delaware video production and post-production company.
“Delaware has a strong history of supporting the arts and culture sector,” the alliance says in announcing the survey.
Yet, “Delaware has a significant arts and culture sector that’s often unrecognized as an industry worth financing,” says Molly Giordano, president of the alliance board and executive director of the Delaware Art Museum. “It’s an unturned stone in economic development.”
When she moved to Delaware, she was told that the state’s economy was “anchored by the ‘C’ industries: chemicals, credit cards, corporations and chickens,” she said when the survey was announced. “We have an enormous opportunity to vault Delaware from a state best known for its ‘C’ industries to a cultural capital known as a must-visit arts destination.”
Places such as Nashville, Austin and Philadelphia, she says, demonstrate how culture can attract tourists and businesses.
The potential draw of culture is especially important now that the DuPont Co., which for so many decades dominated one of the C’s, is so much smaller.
“We can really leverage how many wonderful creatives … there are in Delaware already and build upon that,” Kirschling says. “There’s so much potential here.”