Delaware Creative Economy wins Reinventing DE award
WILMINGTON – Angela Wagner has spent a career embracing new opportunities, and if her latest venture can hit its mark it could translate into an industry worth millions of dollars for Delaware.
Wagner, an entertainment attorney and entrepreneur, is the founder of Delaware Creative Economy, a soon-to-launch nonprofit that will aim to organize, advocate for and support the arts, entertainment, media and marketing industries of Delaware. On Thursday, it was chosen as the winner of the prestigious 2022 Reinventing Delaware Award by the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation, which carries with it a $15,000 prize and consulting help.
The award given by the nonprofit founded as a legacy of entrepreneurship by the late governor has gone to several highly successful startups in prior years, including Zip Code Wilmington, NERDiT NOW, The Warehouse, Wilmington Green Box and Intern Delaware. Applicants must advance through multiple rounds of judging and hone a pitch about their idea that would improve Delaware as a place to live, work and raise a family.
“I felt really a sense of humility because this pitch was so much more than just me,” she said. “So many people’s careers are reliant on this movement.”
For Wagner, the advancement of Delaware Creative Economy would also be a way to give back to a community that has sustained her career. A Charlotte, N.C., native, she moved to Delaware six years ago to live with her partner but found the transition difficult.
“Because I didn’t move here for a job, I had to really create the opportunities for myself that otherwise didn’t exist,” she said.
Despite holding a law degree, she tapped into her artistic side and began working as a creative director for Big Fish Restaurant Group, helping it launch the since-closed Harvest House restaurant in Wilmington. Through that experience, she met Jason Aviles, a young entrepreneur who was working with teens to grow community gardens and make cold-pressed juices.
That relationship blossomed and they partnered on opening Green Box Kitchen, a retail storefront for healthy food options on Market Street that continues to partner with the youth and community efforts. The day Green Box Kitchen opened, serendipity arrived as well-known local director and cinematographer Jet Phynx, who has worked with Lady Gaga and Kanye West, among others, opened his studio right next door.
She struck up a friendship with Phynx, as well as with well-known local designer Dallas Shaw, who helped convince her to return to her legal roots and advocating for the advancement of the local industry.
“I’ve always gravitated towards artists, we speak the same language; we can sniff each other out in a room,” she said with a laugh. “I’m so grateful for both of them for their friendship first and for them believing that and trusting in that I could help them with their careers.”
Wagner would end up selling her stake in Green Box Kitchen and founding Sunshine Consulting Firm, where she has begun to represent clients again, offering intellectual property work, coaching and branding consulting, among other skills. While her clients are largely in Delaware for now, she expects to add two attorneys to her boutique firm by the end of the year with eyes to grow to the Philadelphia region.
Those client relationships helped drive the idea for Delaware Creative Economy.
“Most of my clients have had to go outside of the state of Delaware to get their work and we’re really tired of doing that. It’s honestly discouraging when the majority of my clients who live in Delaware feel like they have to leave their state in order to have a viable career,” she said.
Delaware’s creative economy is growing quickly although largely in small shops, including DeTV, King Creative, 1440 Film Co., Pine Box Soundstage, the Voice Over Couple, BTG Multimedia Group in addition of Phynx and Shaw. Many of them are already working with Fortune 500 companies and major recording artists, but Wagner wants to bring those productions – and their millions in economic impact – to the First State.
“It’s really about how we bring together a group of collective consciousness of sorts because everyone’s currently working in silos and we have to stop that because it’s not efficient,” she said. “What this backbone is intended to do is to create the formula, the infrastructure and to bring people together in Delaware to focus on these sectors of the creative economy.”
While Los Angeles and New York may capture most imaginations about filmmaking, smaller cities like Atlanta and Albuquerque, N.M., have become major film meccas due to lower costs of production, aggressive tax credits on productions and access to key talent.
Those examples serve as a guide for Wagner who sees Delaware as a similar undiscovered gem for filmmakers.
“We pretty much have all the desired locations you can think of. We have cityscapes. We have the beach, we have rolling hills, we have farmland, if you really want mountains they’re not too far away. Jet even shot a short film where he made the landscape look like we were in Africa,” she said.
Delaware’s proximity to nearby major markets will ensure that productions can find talent and transportation, and she expects to lobby next year for the Delaware Entertainment Job Act, a bill that stalled in the last General Assembly but would offer a competitive 30% tax credit on film, TV, videogame or esports production in the state.
“As long as they can function as a production here, they will see Delaware as a viable place to shoot a movie, and we just need to make sure we can welcome them with open arms with the structure,” she said.
The Delaware Creative Economy would work as an informational clearinghouse for productions and state agencies, similar to how the Riverfront Development Corp. oversaw redevelopment of the Riverfront in Wilmington. Wagner noted that success of a creative economy here would come with widespread economic benefit, from actors and actresses to craft service providers, lighting and sound technicians to tent and portable toilet rentals, and more.
“We welcome all people from all walks of life and there’s a spot for you on the team. And that’s really what a production does: we all work together to make something really beautiful,” she said.