[caption id="attachment_229768" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] PHOTO COURTESY OF UNSPLASH/DENISE JANS[/caption]
I recently had the pleasure of sitting with outgoing Delaware Theatre Company Executive Director Bud Martin to talk a bit about his career and the impact that the arts have made on him and the greater Wilmington community.
[caption id="attachment_222223" align="alignright" width="300"] Jacob Owens Editor Delaware Business Times[/caption]
Martin is a bit of an atypical performing artist – one who deftly moved from the “starving” artist aesthetic as a young man to an accomplished entrepreneur who was sought after by some of the leading minds in investment banking, health care and retail pharmacy by the time he wrapped up his corporate career.When I asked him how the arts prepared him for success in business, he didn’t pause. Artists make great business leaders because they know how to sell a vision, how to tell a story, how to engage an audience and a team. They understand how the details form to make the big picture, and they know how to stretch a dollar to finish a project.“The show must go on” as they say, whether the funding came in $1,000 short or over budget.Like Martin, the arts left a lasting impression on me from a young age. I took to drawing and enrolled in Cab Calloway School summer programs, learned photography in high school and spent lunchtime developing film in the darkroom, and performed in concert bands and jazz ensembles for most of my childhood.While I didn’t grow up to be an orchestra musician or the next Ansel Adams, I took with me lessons of practice, perseverance, self-reflection and self-confidence in the decades afterward. It’s the reason that the STEAM movement has picked up in the last decade to incorporate the arts in the STEM curriculum that promotes science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.Aside from the personal benefits, the performing and visual arts have also long been an essential part of Delaware’s cultural fabric, but I think it's fair to say that their economic value has often been neglected or discounted compared to other components in business and job attraction.We don’t often quantify the impact of the arts on our economy. In 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported more than 7,350 jobs and $860 million in economic output connected to the arts in Delaware, or about 1% of state gross domestic product. A 2015 study by the national arts advocacy nonprofit Americans for the Arts also estimated that the arts make an indirect impact of nearly $150 million in Delaware through its expenses and those of its audiences.The Delaware Theatre Company’s 16 full-time employees may be a drop in the jobs bucket compared to some of the major banks with offices just a stone’s throw away, but their impact is immense.The presence of the arts in Wilmington and around the state are a major factor for many large employers considering new operations or expansions here. Lower taxes and cheaper housing are great for workers looking at the First State, but moving somewhere where there isn’t any nightlife or arts or excitement is a major detriment.I was talking with Chris Buccini of Buccini/Pollin Group, which spearheaded the revival of The Queen theater on Market Street and a number of bars and restaurants in the city, about the importance of those additions to its success in drawing thousands of new residents to its downtown apartments.He recalled asking a consultant they relied upon from Philadelphia years ago what it would take to get her to move to Wilmington, and she replied, “Three bars.” The city needed a rejuvenated arts, restaurant and sports scene – and it has come back in droves over the last decade from the Delaware Theatre Company and First State Ballet Theatre to Bardea and La Fia to the Delaware Blue Coats and The Queen theater.People need excitement, they need joy, and they need that human connection that only a great performance, stirring piece of music or evocative dance can produce.Martin relayed an email he had received following the 2019 production of “Honk!,” a modern adaption of “The Ugly Duckling,” that has stuck with him. A mother had brought her 8-year-old son to the play, and she looked over to see him crying during a song.“She asked him, ‘What's wrong, honey?’ And he said, ‘Sometimes I feel like the Ugly Duckling.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, just hearing that one remark made it worth doing the whole show for me,’” Martin said.The longtime theater leader said he was moved, but not surprised, to read about a 2017 British health study that found that the heartbeats of live theater audiences were in synchronicity while watching a production.“You don't get that going to a movie or watching TV at home. I feel like there's an opportunity for people to see not just really good entertainment but plays that hopefully will change them a little bit like they've changed me,” he added.
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