SELBYVILLE — The Freeman Stage at Bayside has, over the last half-decade, established itself as one of the premiere venues supporting the performing arts. From concerts to plays to interactive events, each of the last four summers has brought a new, richer dimension to the entertainment opportunities in the region. So as the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation representatives took the podium last week to announce the highlights of the coming season (See Page 10 of the March 22 issue of the Bayside Gazette), they also took the opportunity to bring a little depth to the wider affects the show has had on the area generally.
Michelle Freeman, President and Chair of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation, put the company’s mission in context, citing both the economic and aesthetic benefits continuing to support the Foundation’s activities has on the surrounding community.
“[The Arts] are also an economic engine for the local market place,” she said. Arts are the eighth largest employer in Delaware and so a significant factor in the state’s economic picture and by continuing to ensure quality performances and events, the Freeman Stage at Bayside has become and important arts outlet in Sussex County, Del.
Since the Bayside Community is easily accessed from both Ocean City an the Delaware beaches, it can act as a kind of cultural hum, promoting everything from pop and classical music to tribal dancing and art fairs.
By adding this additional dimension to the local arts community, the Freeman Stage at Bayside gives even more depth to an already diverse regional art community.
But on the aesthetic side, Freeman pointed out that the Foundation has been making inroads toward expanding art appreciation in the region and has committed to making sure that economic circumstances are not the greatest bar to access to the performing arts.
Last year, the Foundation inaugurated a grant program to help fund transportation costs so that lower income residents could attend shows they otherwise might not have been able to. This year, she announced they would expand that program to try and encourage more participation from the poorer groups around the area.
“We are changing lives and elevating the human spirit” she said.
Present to testify to this fact was Diaz J. Bonville of the West Rehoboth Children and Youth Program. Although an affluent community on the surface, the poor section of West Rehoboth is decidedly so with the preponderance of households below poverty level and with nearly all heads of household single women.
Since the children’s program’s inauguration — which includes Saturday and after-school tutoring as well as a summer program — the kids’ grades have risen markedly and this year 40 percent of the participants are on their school’s honor roll.
The art component was something that had been missing from the program. Receiving the Foundation’s transportation grant opened up an entire aspect of life experience many if not most of the children knew nothing about. Trips to the Freeman Stage became events to which the children looked forward.
“Each and every time our people would ask, ‘When are we going back to the Freeman Stage at Bayside,’” Diaz said.
The access to the performing arts has captured many of the children’s imagination and prompted them to begin to try and reproduce the live performance experience.
So far this year, program participants have begun developing their own shows and plays and giving performances to the public, parents and peers.
More importantly, though, it provides youth to see beyond everyday difficulties and gives them access to beauty in a way many of them may have never had access to. There is something so radically different between seeing a stage production live and watching it on television; it provides a certain amount of cultural currency.
Executive Director of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation Patti Grimes pointed out that grants, such as the transportation grant, are not the work of the Foundation alone but are rather a part of what it can do because of the many donors and other supporters of the arts that help to fund the Foundation’s philanthropic mission.
Grimes took the opportunity of the audience’s attention to point out the Freeman Foundation board members and donors present individually, asking them to stand and be recognized.
PNC Bank, which has been among the supporters since the Freeman Stage at Bayside’s inception, was able to participate a little more aggressively this year.
Grimes said that the bank’s philanthropic arm sponsors a “Grow Up Great” program aimed at helping to support youth activities in the bank’s various communities. After providing significant support last year the local bank brought the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation to the attention of Grow Up Great and was able to provide more than $12,000 to help fund the program this year.
Kelly Rew, who was on hand representing PNC said that her company realizes that there is a tangible and likely benefit in supporting programs such as the Freeman Stage at Bayside.
“An investment in one child, which is our workforce for tomorrow, only makes economic sense,” she said.
Many companies have started to realize that having people who can only add and subtract is insufficient for the 21st Century. As creative thinking has become a key component to many of event mid-level positions, it has become clear that fostering the upcoming generation’s ability to do that will benefit businesses in the end.
Having access to and appreciation for the arts is a demonstrated way to develop the will to make novel decisions and to be innovative.
It was a sentiment with which Del. Secretary of State Jeffery Bullock agreed. He spoke about the arts, not only as a tourist attraction and a major employer but also a growth industry that could be expected to help keep the state, especially Sussex County, diverse.
Bullock pledged that as the Freeman Stage at Bayside began to expand its scope the state would be a financial participant as well as lend moral support.
As government, business and the philanthropic supporters of the arts continue to work together it is not unreasonable to expect the expansion not only of the Freeman Stage at Bayside but also for the demand for the performing arts regionally.