Thursday, August 6, 2009

An S.O.S for Delaware's cultural flagship

What if you woke up and The Grand was shuttered? What would be the repercussions for our arts scene and Wilmington's revitalization?

A meteor is hurdling toward Earth, stamped with the address 818 N. Market Street and there is no superhero in sight.

Grand Executive Director Steve Bailey said he agonized over the decision to send thousands of appeal letters out to previous supporters detailing how bad things are at the First State's cultural flagship, which houses OperaDelaware, First State Ballet and Delaware Symphony. It was a courageous move, and there was passion in his voice during our recent conversation when he said the solicitations were "a referendum on whether The Grand survives."

The "yes" vote will be counted in dollars.

Bailey faced a formidable task when he came onboard our flagship: The Grand and a myriad of statewide non-profits had just bid a tearful goodbye to munificent benefactor Charlie Cawley and his considerable bankroll. Then there was the tanking economy, perennial perceptions of danger in downtown Wilmington after dark, and cleaning up residual messes and sour feelings left by previous Grand administrator Ken Wesler, a pompous court lackey to the imperial Cawley.

Yet even in those choppy waters, Bailey set a course for success, according to Director of Production Rick Neidig.

“We are expanding our mission. Our ticket sales have increased. We have instituted Summer Children's Theatre, children's' workshops, Summer Steel (learning to play the steel drums), and Stages of Discovery School MatinĂ©es throughout the year," Bailey told me.

Bailey's job description has changed from overseeing operations as executive director to become the all-consuming job of fund raiser No. 1. For any executive who has been through this cycle, we understand how enervating this is.

If The Grand shutters, fellow citizens, we are burnt toast. Wilmington Renaissance Corporation can rent a 1-800-Pack Rat for their move and the Buccini brothers bright idea of "lighting up" The Queen will dim.

It's bad enough when a restaurant or retailer closes, but that's Triple A baseball: The Grand is Major League. If we do not support The Grand -- Delaware's Eiffel Tower, our Tower of London, our Statue of Liberty -- we can kiss goodbye those grand pronouncements by city and state officials about our being a “world class destination,” because folks, we will have no class.

To find out how to support The Grand, call 302-658-7897 or visit


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Anonymous said...

Lucky for The Grand, the pompous court lackey left. Now he's on a path of destruction in York, PA. How long exactly does it take a board of accomplished business people to wake up and do something?