Wilmington’s Renaissance Corporation Offers Vision for Creative District

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By Rana Fayez
Social media staff writer

The Wilmington Renaissance Corporation has a vision of revitalizing an area in downtown Wilmington as a creative district.

The vision is built around artist- owned properties containing galleries, performance spaces and studios on street- level with apartments and living spaces on floors above to provide a sense of community to an area that has been long- challenged by socioeconomic difficulties.

The idea also supports a neighborhood-based strategic plan focused around artist development and building new properties in vacant lots.

By regularly hosting Creative Chat forums in the developing district, the Wilmington Renaissance Corporation (WRC) hopes to attract and educate arts professionals. The vision will affect the downtown, Quaker Hill and West Center City neighborhoods.

“It started as a conversation about building off the success of the Shipley Lofts. They’re apartment rentals. A couple of folks within the community and I were thinking about creating some home-ownership opportunities for artists and where there were some best practice examples,” said Executive Director Carrie Gray.

By offering a bi-monthly speaker series covering issues surrounding entrepreneurship in the arts industry and looking at other cities around the country for models to localize, the Wilmington Renaissance Corporation hopes to cultivate a culture of creative individuals to support the vision of a creative district.

The speaker series kicked off this summer at the Chris White Gallery located below Shipley Lofts at 701 Shipley St. where Dr. Evan Malone, president of NextFab.com in Philadelphia, spoke about his company’s model of a cooperative and shared workspace to facilitate the creation of handmade goods.

Malone hopes that such entrepreneurs will turn to his company’s fabrication
lab as a resource to liven the downtown Wilmington creative district. He discussed the different ways cooperative labs can be used to drive down costs for independent manufacturers and give them the chance to compete in a marketplace full of mass- produced products.

During the meeting a muralist was outside live painting and a singer- songwriter was performing, which created a unique ambiance truly living up to its creative name. The program has created more than 3,600 murals.

“As we change the landscape of the city we’re also changing individual lives,” said Jane Golden. “There’s definitely been interest ….to see this program replicated in any way in other cities large and small is really thrilling. Art has a particular kind of power to transform and change, it’s wonderful to see that so many other people believe in that as well.”

WRC hopes to emulate the mural arts program within Wilmington’s creative district to use the restorative power of art to revitalize the downtown Wilmington area. “Hopefully they can learn some things about Philadelphia that could be applicable to different problems issues that are on their agenda,” said Golden.

“What has resulted is that we’ve kind of taken some of the best elements from each of those that we felt could be applied here in Wilmington…. The point is to take some concepts that are in the plan and show how they could work here in the creative district,”

said Gray. She looked at one case in particular that resonated with her in Paducah, Kentucky. where low-income housing was revamped and flipped to artists for a dollar.

The WRC is working on creating a database of those interested in helping form the district, whether they are artists, community members or patrons, as it will take a small village to raise this growing child of a project.

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