When Dave Fleming was Executive Director of the major performing arts center in Austin TX, Larry Gatlin of The Gatlin Brothers became a friend. Gatlin was waxing philosophic one evening and delivered a phrase that now is prophetic: “You spend half your life trying to get out of town....and the other half fighting your way back.”
Fleming, who was hired as ED of The Grand in 1982, held that position for a decade. He left Wilmington for a bigger theatre and opportunity in New Brunswick NJ. Then on to Austin, Green Bay and the Berkshires as leader of performing arts venues.
Now Dave's Great Mandala brings him back to his hometown and back to The Grand as Development Director.
Though recently living in Massachusetts, Dave and high school sweetheart wife Cathy had kept in touch with Delaware events through the decades. He was aware of the financial stress of The Grand and reached out to friend and colleague ED Steve Bailey. Dave wanted to write a letter to the editor about the desperate need for performing arts in the community. During the conversation, Bailey asked what Dave was doing. “Well, I'm retired....and I am b-o-r-e-d.”
Bailey responded, “Come back to The Grand, man. We need you.”
Dave and I attended Brandywine High together in the '60's. In fact, we were in the first ever Brandywine High Alumni Theatre Association production of “Carnival”., in 1968. (It must be noted that dear sister Liz portrayed 'The Bearded Lady' of the circus, undeniably her most compelling stage role. While she had no speaking lines, Liz brought great pathos to her hirsute character. People talk about it even today.)
In the hippie '70's Dave and I worked together with Earth Shoes in Washington D.C. When I saw him last week at a Grand fund raiser, I exclaimed, 'What in the world are you doing here?”
The House of Medici, the imperious and iron fisted rulers of The Grand during the '90's were long gone. If tar and feathering were legal, their sycophantic Executive Director would have been escorted out of town in this fashion, with Aisle Say leading the charge.
Steve Bailey took over the reins in what Fleming has called “the toughest environment I have ever witnessed. Only now are we seeing the appearance of some light.”
Aisle Say was in attendance the night of the unveiling of the 2011 $10 million capital campaign. Philanthropist Tatiana Copeland announced that she and her husband would donate $1 million each. With others chipping in, that night concluded with 45% of the deal done.
One of Fleming's jobs will be to go after those smaller, annual donors; the ones that were ignored during the Medici era. He understands that The Grand must return to a broad base of support. I need to “make connections”, “bring people back in the fold”.
Regarding The Queen: “It is our greatest fear is that it will not be successful.” The two venues are sharing and comparing notes. With the massive amount of money being poured into The Queen and the hopes for linking Market Street from the Riverfront to Rodney Square, it's failure would be death knell for revitalization.
On the perception of downtown Wilmington, Dave had an interesting take. “Crime occurs when there are few people around. Frankly, the more people on the street, the less likelihood of crime. Therefore, if The Queen brings even more people to their box office, both our entities will prosper...as will our city. Then, that perception will dissipate.”
(Note: I was in a network meeting with Marty Hageman, CEO of Downtown Visions. He had statistics to substantiate that the Market Street hub is the safest place in the city.)
Says Fleming: “I care deeply about live theatre. I love my home town. I love re-connecting with old friends. I think I bring some talents to Steve and The Grand from my own professional experiences. My goal is to put The Grand on a sustainable path.”