A press conference in Selbyville March 8 was held by The Freeman Stage at Bayside and Joshua M. Freeman Foundation to announce the first of two volumes of this summer season’s official lineup.
The invitation-only event allowed for many donors, sponsors and residents of the Bayshore Community to hear about the role of arts in the community, and the long awaited first reveal of performances from members of the foundation’s board. Sussex County administrators and educators who have contributed to growing this venue, and promoting access to the arts for all were in attendance as well.
As the Freeman Stage at Bayside enters it’s 11th season, founded in 2008, it has seen over 400,000 visitors (13,800 in its first year of operation, to over 50,000 attendees in 2017) representing 42 of the 50 states. During the past 10 years, the Freeman Stage has contributed over $27 million in economic development in Sussex, with $15 million of those dollars being pumped directly back into the small business sectors by using local vendors and employing people of Sussex County.
“Our mission is to make sure everyone has access to the arts,” said Patti Grimes, executive director of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation, who also leads the festivities at The Cove Bar and Grill at Bayside.
It has been a major goal of those involved in this performing arts venue since the beginning to provide “high quality arts experiences” to all, partnering with community nonprofit organizations and the board of education to ensure students, regardless of background, have access to the arts in their community. This has been a reality, as over 100,000 students have been able to attend performances with help from both this foundation and Sussex County. Todd Lawson, Sussex County administrator, has worked to make sure that grants and money were allotted to allow for transportation of school children to the venue, citing that an experience like this helps to “create dreams for our youth.”
“The arts are an economic driver for our state and community,” said Linda Parkowski, acting director of the Delaware Division of Small Business, Development and Tourism.
As the arts in Delaware, specifically Sussex County, continue to grow and flourish, it has helped Delaware’s tourism industry to grow from $1.9 billion annually to $3.3 billion over this 1-year span of operation. Not only do these performances and events “inspire feelings,” but enhance the quality of life in an already vibrant community full of diverse people.
Dr. Janet Hickman, a member of the panel and current principal at Georgetown Kindergarten Center who has been involved in education for over 26 years, has seen how access to these performances have sparked a passion in children. Hickman spoke about how much joy she sees and feels when the children at her school can hop on a bus and see something many would most likely not have the ability to see if there were not programs in place. Many of the students at her school do not speak English, so a firsthand look at the arts is something that will forever etch a positive memory into their minds and attribute to educational/creative growth.
“As we forge ahead, we focus on creating experiences for all humans,” said Michelle Freeman, president and chair of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation.
Freeman, who is a major advocate for diversity and inclusion, specifically in the arts, eagerly took the podium to announce the first volume of The Freeman Stage’s summer lineup which included an exemplary and diverse offering of artists and performances while the entire audience gasped and cheered. In 2018, the Freeman Stage will offer more than 60 total performances and events, with almost half of the events being free to all children, families and visitors. While there are many returning performers that have been crowd favorites in the past, some of the headliners include Smokey Robinson, The Beach Boys, Jeff Foxworthy, Cheap Trick, Leslie Odom Jr., Chris Janson, Vince Gill and many more. In all, this year’s performers account for more than 66 Grammys, 18 CMA awards, and various achievements in the arts.
“The arts allow us to look at life differently and spark conversation and thought,” said Freeman
The best part is that this is only the first part of a two-part release of performances. The second volume will be announced April 9 at Dogfish Head Brewing and Eats in Rehoboth at 6 p.m. For the full lineup of performances and events, visit FreemanStage.org. Tickets begin to go on sale Monday, March 26 at 10 a.m.