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Viewpoint: The Delaware Contemporary’s ever-evolving mission

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John Shipman

John Shipman
Guest Columnist

On Dec. 17, the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts announced that the 32-year-old organization was changing its name to The Delaware Contemporary, marking another milestone in the continued journey of Delaware’s only organization focused on contemporary art and creativity.

Since its inception in 1979, The Delaware Contemporary has always strived to highlight the arts in all its forms, underscoring the “S” in “Arts” in its original name.

The rebranding of the organization to The Delaware Contemporary comes one year after the Board of Directors and staff evolved the art center’s mission to explore the “intersection of art, design, and technology.”

The value of this for The Delaware Contemporary is two-fold. First, it is important for all cultural organizations to build sustainable strategic partnerships with other institutions within our communities. With the evolution of the mission, The Delaware Contemporary has been able to build new partnerships with organizations in Delaware like tech leader 1313 Innovation, and the University of Delaware. Paul McConnell’s team at 1313 Innovation is bringing to The Delaware Contemporary a wealth of technology-driven creativity.

In a great budding partnership with the University of Delaware, George Watson (dean, College of Arts and Sciences), Joann Browning (associate dean for the arts, College of Arts and Sciences), and Troy Richards (chair, Department of Art) have worked with The Delaware Contemporary this past year to create new programs and opportunities that will connect Wilmington and the campus in exciting ways. Hosting graduate and undergraduate exhibitions, partnering on the Gretchen Hupfel Symposium in the spring, and creating a new two-year assistantship with the Department of Art that will culminate in a graduate student-curated exhibition at The Delaware Contemporary are just the beginning of what this partnership will bring.

Second, partnerships also allow for a stronger integration of exhibitions and education, another way to focus on fulfilling the value of the evolved mission and vision for The Delaware Contemporary. This past summer The Delaware Contemporary partnered with the Mother African Union, the oldest African American church in the nation. Since September, artist and illustrator Nanci Hersch has been working with students at the church to explore the history of the church and its founder, Peter Spencer. The project will culminate in an illustrated book highlighting the fascinating story. This project, and the partnership behind it, will then be exhibited in next fall’s exhibition at The Delaware Contemporary of contemporary American illustration.

Exhibitions, community outreach, lectures and symposia, workshops for participants of all ages, and other education programs are all avenues that The Delaware Contemporary engages with the creative in all participants/visitors. The programs engage the participant in an ongoing conversation, and teach them – Empower them – with the confidence in their own creative voice and creative practice. 

John Shipman is the director of The Delaware Contemporary.

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