IN the Spotlight: Chris Bruce, King Creative

Chris Bruce -by Joe del Tufo

If the Queen Theatre is one of the crown jewels on Market Street, then King Creative may just be the royal consort that our lady deserves–and all of Wilmington has been waiting for. For over 100 years, the Queen has been the destination, the arrival point of many an artist and enthusiast. It has even, in recent weeks, been headquarters of a more presidential nature. King Creative, meanwhile, is less about the arrival and more about the process. For the past several years it has been the creative force that swirls around the Queen, our city, and the state—bringing collaborators together, putting projects in motion, and helping to give them voice. Located two blocks away from the Queen in a less ostentatious but decidedly more modish space (think shuffleboard table, in-house yoga studio, recording studio, video editing bays, and a small stage with a live plant wall as backdrop), King Creative is not just one thing, but a playroom of sorts where inspiration can both fly and take root. I visited the space in January (my first live and in-person interview since COVID hit) under the guise of talking to creator and owner Christopher Bruce, but in reality, I was just hoping to baptize myself in all that creative sparkle as I launched my writer/artist self into 2021.

  First, let’s disabuse some notions. When people think about a creative person, they generally think someone who stands out. They imagine a bird who flies higher and faster, one with a unique song and bright feathers. In this way of thinking, a King Creative would be the most standout-ish bird of all – a fantastical Suessian creature smack dab in the middle of a flock of brown sparrows. But in talking with Bruce, the word he uses again and again when he describes creative people and processes isn’t “unique”, and it isn’t “brilliant”; it’s “collaborative.”

   “Here, at King Creative, we are collaborators by nature. In fact, we are getting ready to launch The second floor at King Creative: a Collaborative Space.  When you are in any kind of creative field, it is important to feed off of each other, to fuel each other, to push each other, to inspire each other to do bigger, better things. That’s the fun of it.”

He elaborates. “People have to be willing and open to working together. A lot of times people worry too much about the credit…but if we are focused on the result and the pictures we are trying to paint, the scenes we are trying to frame, more so than who is going to try to get the credit for it, then I think you make a better painting or a better film or a better project.” 

I asked Bruce how that collaborative spirit works in Wilmington. “Well,” he mused. “You see people all the time. People like to work with people they know, like, and trust. It is simple really. I get to know someone, and then when you see them on the street, you ask them, ‘What are you doing? Hey, we should collaborate,’ and I feel like that happens a lot, here. There are a lot great people in town who have proven to be talented, to be creative, to be inspiring in their own unique ways. Wilmington just has a general accessibility. Where, in other places, it might be far-fetched to do something because ‘I don’t know a welder’ or ‘I don’t know a person who is a senator.’ Well, here we do… literally. Oh, I’ll see you tomorrow at lunch. It represents what is possible. And because of that unique nature we have the ability to get things done more quickly than some other places, and that is a beautiful thing.”

Bruce’s face lights up when he talks about examples of current collaborations. “We are working with the team at DETV with Ivan [Thomas], Leslie [Nutter], and that group on the DETV Kids brand. I am writing and directing a lot of the content for that–developing content for kids at school, ones who are homeschooled. It’s such a challenge, but to think, we are really creating our own kids’ network–which is crazy. We had the idea before COVID, but it got accelerated because of it; the need was greater. It created an opportunity, but it is a ton of work.  We are literally imagining new worlds. It is just the ultimate collaboration with all sorts of people from different walks of life: child psychologists, music producers, writers and directors, performers, teachers…It is gratifying to see this all come together and be a part of this mix.”

In another, separate effort, Bruce and his team are working with multiplatinum record-producer and long-time Delawarean, Herb Middleton. He has a new company called Moontown Records and Publishing. “It is just cool to work with people who bring different perspectives and skill sets to the table, and what comes of that is always so amazing. Herb and I are dreaming about really big things and bringing that energy and effort here to Wilmington. We have had artists in from around the country. We are talking to some groups from Guam, because there is a hidden talent out there, but bringing it here…to little old Wilmington.”

Then again…Wilmington was cool enough for Bob Marley.

In summing up why our community is poised to take over the creative world, Bruce has this to say, “I love Wilmington for the simple fact that it is conveniently located in the heart of such a huge population, center of the country. Nowhere else is this centrally located between New York, Philly, Baltimore, D.C. With that comes opportunities to collaborate…to be almost this central hub where everybody comes through and stops and takes part in something bigger. And if we can continue to take part and prove ourselves as this creative Mecca, so to speak—and I think we can because we are so centrally located—then we will find ourselves with tremendous opportunity. People do pass through here all the time, and with that, comes different perspectives, new ways of looking at the world, and that is a good thing.

“And obviously Biden getting elected doesn’t hurt. It brings attention… It’s a point of pride to say that the next president is from here, lives here. I hope it sparks more creativity, more collaboration and opportunity for everyone here in Wilmington. I think that potential is clearly possible. It’s a matter of what we do with it as a community. We should all be excited. We should all be ready to take the moment and make the most of it. It’s okay to be proud. It’s okay to enjoy it, but also think, ‘How can we make it a moment where we improve ourselves? Improve our community? Improve our nation? Improve our world?’”

A question mark may be the ultimate piece of punctuation ever for a creative person.

 Because Christopher Bruce is at the intersection of all that is creative in our community, I asked him to let us in on his favorites in this last round of questions. 

Favorite restaurants INWilmington?

I love Bardea. Their food is phenomenal. I know the guys really well. They are block from us. They are part of our little block party. It’s great little zone. I love where we are. We love all these little restaurants up and down here. I love Stitch (House Brewery). I love Chelsea (Tavern). Dorcea is a great new restaurant. They are doing a great job over there. Columbus Inn. I love food. I could talk all day. Just name them all. I love them all. 

Favorite takeout INWilmington?

I love Southeast Kitchen over in Trolley. There is nothing you can go wrong with on that menu. They have the Basil Bok Choy, the Drunken Noodles, the classics—all of them. We done take-out at Columbus Inn a bunch, as well. And Farmer & the Cow. I love Farmer. If I had to do three, I’m doing Farmer, Southeast, Columbus Inn. I hate playing favorites because it’s all good, frankly. Now, I am just really hungry.

Favorite place for cocktails INWilmington?

Bardea has good drinks. Torbert Street Social Club for craft cocktails; they were the best. (At the time of this writing Torbert Street has been closed indefinitely.) They were crushing it over there. Maker’s Alley is a cool little spot. Stitch for a beer. Farmer—Mike does some really cool cocktails there as well. I love this little strip. You could do a cool little bar crawl right here. (Time out while writer jots this idea on her post-COVID bucket list. But don’t wait until then. Most of these establishments offer cocktails to go.)

Favorite venue for live events INWilmington?

Obviously, the Queen is a great spot, Tonic (Bar & Grill) has stepped up their game, doing some live music and pushing through. I like our little spot (the aforementioned stage with the live plant wall backdrop). It was such a cool little vibe. Really chill and intimate. That listening room kind of feel. We will definitely do more of that. I look forward getting back to that.

Favorite visual artist INWilmington?

The person who is visually bringing his game—(photographer) Joe del Tufo has been crushing it. Give him credit for that. Working with him on this campaign was awesome, lot of fun. And Seeing the work he has been doing lately. Getting shots of our new president (special edition of Delaware Today). He has been doing a great job. And also (photographer) Luigi Ciuffetelli. He has been putting out a lot really cool visuals, as well.

Favorite politician INWilmington?

It has been great to see all this Delaware pride. Lisa Blunt Rochester has been a shining example of someone who has really stepped up. Chris Coons never quits. He just always goes. It’s great to see these people who are longtime fighters for the state get their due. And then, obviously, there is the number one that everyone is talking about. (Joe Biden) How do you ignore that? I was a mascot of University of Delaware back when Biden was a senator, and he’d be around. A genuine normal person. Not a huge air about him. Just down to earth, accessible, friendly. It is kind of nice to get that energy. There is a lot of connection to Joe here. 

Favorite community organization INWilmington?

We are working with the Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Land Bank. Seeing some of the stuff they are doing, trying to revive some of these communities– that has been interesting. You’ve also got The Wilmington Alliance creating opportunities and just trying to help people through the micro-relief grants. Then there is the Wilmington Strong Fund, trying to bring that positive focus. We’ve helped them develop some spots for that and helped create their voice. That was a collaborative effort; we all worked together in the midst of the pandemic.

And too, there are a lot of great arts organizations and other groups such as Teen Warehouse which are helping to create more opportunities to bring people up in a way that is positive and allows people to achieve their fullest potentials or, at the very least, to at least be aware of what is possible. That’s what I think a lot of times people don’t get. They don’t get the examples of ways of flourishing that seem reasonable or realistic so then they don’t try or shoot for it. You need to turn on the light switch. It doesn’t take much. Those are the kinds of organizations I really like to see developing.  Village Alliance, Teen Warehouse are all these opportunities for those sparks. Who knows what that leads to? It could be the next big thing, the next great leader, innovator, artist, or musician. You name it. It is good for all of us. When I think about all we have going on in Wilmington, I know there is a lot of good stuff to be hopeful for, thankful for. We have much to look forward to in 2021 and beyond.