Wilmington wins $75,000 NEA grant for pocket parks

From The News Journal

The Wilmington Renaissance Corp. will receive a $75,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to help support the Vacant to Vibrant Pocket Parks and Passages program.

The announcement of the grant was a highlight of the WRC’s annual breakfast meeting Tuesday at The Queen in Wilmington. The nonprofit is a public-private partnership between mayor’s office and the corporate community that tries to bring people into Wilmington by designing and championing projects and cutting through red tape to get them done.

One of its newest ideas is to establish a kitchen incubator, where people who want or need to use a professional kitchen would be able to become a member and have a set number of hours to bake and cook there. Similar kitchens exist in New York and Philadelphia, and it’s one of the ways that small food companies get going.

Receiving a sizable grant through the endowment’s Our Town program is a bit of coup, officials said. Wilmington’s request was one of 240 projects asking for part of $4.3 million. The Our Town program focuses on using arts to create beautiful and resilient spaces. That in turn is supposed to help make living and working in the area more attractive to continue the momentum of turning undesirable locations into desirable ones.


The parks and passages program is one aspect of the WRC’s Creative District, which is designed to bring creative people – artists, musicians, designers, tech innovators, makers and manufacturers – into the city by providing reduced-cost space to work and live in an area west of Market Street’s concentration of arts institutions. The underlying theory is that the people who make up that demographic will then patronize the area’s dining and entertainment establishments, strengthening the base of a livable city.

The first house in the program, at 413 West Fifth St., has been finished and will go on the market soon, said Dr. Carrie W. Gray, WRC managing director. That house is being managed by Interfaith Community Housing of Delaware.

The NEA grant will be matched with in-kind work and funding, Gray said.

The Pocket Parks and Passages program is working with  Groundswell – a place-making firm in Philadelphia that helped create the Spruce Street Harbor Place park – to lead the community engagement process that will reimagine and redesign four vacant or underutilized parcels in the Creative District.

As that is happening, the WRC and district are going ahead with the 7th Street Arts Bridge. Its four areas include a “Be the Light, Spread Love” mural by Smashed Label located at Seventh & Tatnall streets, which should be painted soon; a “Musical Fence” temporary installation by New Wilmington Art Association artists Jen Hintz, Jessi Taylor and Anne Yoncha, proposed for Seventh  & West streets; the Jefferson garden, an ornamental garden designed by Andre Hinton at Seventh & Jefferson; and the Windsor wall mural to be created by Terrance Vann at Seventh & Windsor. The garden and Windsor mural are still going through a community engagement process.

Speakers at the meeting included Gov. Jack Markell,. who was not dressed as Badass Jack like he was at the Gridiron dinner Saturday night. He lauded the WRC for helping to make Wilmington attractive at a time when it’s a recognized national trend that many young people want to live in urban areas, not suburban ones, to be close to work, dining and entertainment.

One of the cornerstones of the Creative District is to attract businesses such as the Kitchen Incubator and NextFab, a makerspace that brings together people who need to manufacture something from a piece of machinery to an entire new product. Gray introduced NextFab CEO Dr. Evan Malone, saying he had just signed a lease at 807 West St. Gray quickly backpedaled on that, saying that while he had indeed signed a lease, “an amazing opportunity” had just reared its head and the company may or may not end up at 807 West.

Rounding out the speakers was Tanya Menendez, CEO and co-founder of Maker’s Row, a website that identifies and links American factories. She had been a banker who went into business with a friend producing leather goods. When they tried to find an American factory, they found it difficult. Brokers wanted to sell them lists, and they had no way to know if the factory would take them on because they wanted small batches, not large ones.

Their solution was to start the website, which is open to anyone to use. People think manufacturing is dead in America, but it’s not, Menendez said. They found that there are still 10,000 factories in the country that handle all kinds of manufacturing.

Once the website started, Maker’s Row also helped a lot of the manufacturers raise their profile through social media, learning email and creating ways for people to be able to use them. Some of the big firms had to be coached into being willing to create small batches and doing it quickly so budding entrepreneurs could handle the costs and also be able to sell things quickly.

“The biggest thing I have to leave is that the maker movement is here to stay,” Menendez said. “People are creating new products and they’re creating new businesses.”

Arts-based Community Development Investment for Wilmington

Wilmington Renaissance Corporation one of 64 National Endowment for the Arts Our Town projects selected nationwide

National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Jane Chu announced 64 awards totaling $4.3 million supporting projects across the nation through the NEA’s Our Town program. Wilmington Renaissance Corporation is one of the recommended organizations for an award of $75,000 to support Creative District Wilmington’s Vacant to Vibrant: Pocket Parks and Passages. The Our Town grant program supports creative placemaking projects that help to transform communities into lively, beautiful, and resilient places with the arts at their core. The NEA received 240 applications for Our Town this year and will make awards ranging from $25,000 to $100,000.

“For six years, Our Town has made a difference for people and the places where they live, work, and play,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Projects such as the one led by Wilmington Renaissance Corporation help residents engage the arts to spark vitality in their communities.”
“The State of Delaware congratulates WRC and Creative District Wilmington on their NEA Our Town Award,” said Paul Weagraff, Director of the Delaware Division of the Arts. “This exciting community development project acknowledges the role the arts can play in addressing critical social issues and envisioning new possibilities within Wilmington’s creative landscape.”

Creative District Wilmington’s Vacant to Vibrant: Pocket Parks and Passages is an initiative to re-imagine and re-design 4 vacant, blighted and underutilized areas in the City’s Creative District. This creative placemaking project centralizes the arts in a planning process that fulfills the community’s vision for the area, builds upon community-driven programming to transform these challenged spaces into vibrant, attractive community gathering places filled with public art, performances and civic events. Vacant to Vibrant will partner with the City of Wilmington, neighborhood residents and award-winning placemaking design firm, Groundswell
Design Group to re-imagine and re-design four vacant, blighted and underutilized areas in the City’s Creative District. The final plans will then be utilized to secure the necessary funding to implement the new vision for these four areas.
For a complete list of projects recommended for Our Town grant support, please visit the NEA web site at arts.gov. The NEA’s online resource, Exploring Our Town, features case studies of more than 70 Our Town projects along with lessons learned and other resources. To join the Twitter conversation about this announcement, please use #NEAOurTown16.
About Creative District Wilmington
Wilmington’s Creative District is a part of a national wave of creative placemaking initiatives that seek to transform urban areas. The Creative District encompasses the area bounded by Fourth, Ninth, Market and Washington streets and, with the active engagement of public and private partners, will continue the momentum of investments made in recent years in LOMA and along the Market Street corridor. The Creative District is focused on creative production and consumption. It’s a place where creative entrepreneurs—artists, musicians, designers, tech innovators, makers and manufacturers—and neighborhood residents thrive, and where locally designed goods and original works are made and consumed. The Creative District will engage the community—current and future residents, as well as civic and business leaders—in a wide range of initiatives and programs that include affordable housing, greening and streetscape projects, real estate development, programming and community engagement activities, public art and public performance projects, and centers for creative entrepreneurship.

Creative District Wilmington projects are generously supported by: Bank of America, CityFest, City of Wilmington Dept. of Cultural Affairs, City of Wilmington Dept. of Real Estate & Housing, Colonial Parking, Connections CSP, Delaware Division of the Arts, Delaware Dept. of State, Delaware State Housing Authority, Delmarva Power, Downtown Visions, DuPont, FHLB Pittsburgh, Gable Music Ventures, Highmark Delaware, IBEW Local #313, Interfaith Community Housing of Delaware, JPMorgan Chase, Longwood Foundation, Lowe’s, MSP Equipment Rentals, National Endowment for the Arts, NCALL, NeighborWorks America, TD Bank Foundation, United Way of Delaware, and WSFS Bank.

WRC welcomed constituents from the Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange

WRC welcomed constituents from the Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange on Thursday, October 22nd. Managing Director Carrie Gray provided a tour of Downtown Wilmington and the Creative District. Rick Gessner from Capital One moderated a panel discussion on How Public Funds Can Be Leveraged for Sustainable Change with Dan Logan, Delaware Attorney General’s Office, Crime Strategies Unit, Hon. Anas Ben Addi, Director, Delaware State Housing Authority, Michael Purzycki of Riverfront Development Corporation and Lenny Sophrin, City of Wilmington Director of Planning & Development.

WHYY Newsworks coverage of announcement of Wilmington’s Creative District: Willing Street Artist Village

From WHYY Newsworks:

Wilmington’s vacant properties to be converted into affordable homes for artists

Wilmington plans to revitalize vacant, decrepit properties, into vibrant affordable homes where local artists can live and work.

New affordable homes, located in the Quaker Hill neighborhood of Wilmington, will be the city’s first housing development for artists, designed to eliminate vacant housing and provide affordable properties to the creative community.

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WHYY’s RadioTimes interview with WRC’s Carrie Gray and Laura Semmelroth

From WHYY RadioTimes:

Creative Place-making and Urban Design in Wilmington, Philly, and Beyond; Update on Pennsylvania Budget Negotiations

How do you change a city? Today on Radio Times, we explore urban revitalization through design and creative place-making. We’ll be joined by CARRIE GRAY and LAURA SEMMELROTH of the Wilmington Renaissance Corporation. They’ll discuss plans for a Creative District in Wilmington, Delaware that will transform a neighborhood through the growth and support of the creative community.

WRC’s June Creative Chat: Dream Streets

WRC held its fifth Creative Chat on Wednesday, June 10, at the Chris White Gallery that featured special guests Margaret Winslow, Associate Curator for Contemporary Art of Delaware Art Museum, Michael Kalmbach, Executive Director of Creative Vision Factory, and accomplished artist Rick Rothrock. Winslow moderated a discussion with Kalmbach and Rothrock about the history that informed the exhibition Dream Streets: Art in Wilmington 1970-1990. Kalmbach and Rothrock described motivations and processes behind past art projects and how they engaged the Delaware community. Specific projects mentioned include Kalmbach’s involvement with the Kalmar Nyckel mural and Rothrock’s creative projects displayed throughout the Brandywine Zoo.

Photo by Brian Wild Photography

Photo by Brian Wild Photography

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Artist Mixer: The Business of Art

Thursday, July 30th, 5:30pm
Chris White Gallery, 701 N. Shipley Street, Wilmington

Creative District Wilmington teams up with SCORE® and Delaware SCORE as they present a free workshop on how to help artists and arts entrepreneurs choose the right path forward in developing their business. The presentation will provide an overview of SCORE’s services and how they can help individuals make strategic decisions about their business. An artist who has been working with SCORE will also share their experience of this kind of support and how it has impacted their work.

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