The Art of Partnership

The Delaware Art Museum. The Delaware Contemporary.

Both art museums. Both long-time fixtures in the Delaware community. Both with passionate art lovers, funders and other stakeholders.

Many things distinguish the two museums. The Delaware Contemporary (TDC) puts its focus on living artists within a 250-mile radius of the facility. The Delaware Art Museum (DelArt) collects the work of British Pre-Raphaelite artists and American art from 1757 to today, with a focus on American illustration and the art of John Sloan.

But it’s natural to see where the two visual arts institutions align.

Leslie Shaffer, Executive Director of TDC says, “We do very similar things. We showcase artists. We perform outreach into the community with regard to art.”

The Delaware Contemporary has a strong focus on emerging artists, and the Delaware Art Museum has recently mounted a series of distinguished artist exhibitions, featuring artists late in their career.

But neither organization has any hard and fast rules about this. Visitors will find emerging artists’ work at DelArt, and TDC will show an internationally established artist, if it’s in the interest of a theme and complements the work of an emerging artist.

The one thing the two organizations absolutely share: arts patrons.

The two organizations are pleased to announce the first of hopefully many collaborations that the museums are forging in order to acknowledge the enthusiastic pool of patrons that support the spectrum of visual arts that exists in Wilmington.

They are working together to offer a joint bus trip – a Hudson Valley Art Adventure – planned for June 17-19, 2023. The group will travel several hours north by luxury coach. Tours on the trip include Magazzino Italian Art, Storm King Art Center, DIA Beacon, and the Al Held Foundation, as well as private collections and artists’ studios. Lodging and dining are top notch, with the guests taking over an entire boutique hotel: Le Chambord at Curry Estate, a charming country property.

What makes the collaboration even sweeter than the digs is that that experiences were selected jointly by representatives from each organization: Margaret Winslow (DelArt’s Chief Curator and Curator of Contemporary Art) and Maxine Gaiber (former TDC Executive Director) worked together to identify the arts, dining, and lodging experiences for the group, and will take part in the tours to help lead the conversations.

Shaffer says, “Pre-COVID, both museums planned trips for our patrons where we’d take a look at art in another place. After visiting museums and other arts destinations, the group might stay for a night, or maybe four nights, to intensively – together as a group – focus on that experience. Often, the trips would include a fun dining experience…something you wouldn’t get if you were to go on your own.”

Emerging from the pandemic’s restrictions on travel and period of social isolation, the organizations are now hearing from their audiences that patrons are eager to participate in travel programs again.

Shaffer says, “Knowing people are still tiptoeing into the idea of group travel, we thought, ‘Why not try planning a trip together?’”

Molly Giordano, Executive Director at DelArt, adds, “If this goes well, we’ll know there’s an interest in more travel. Maybe it will spark a more robust national and international travel program.”

More on the Horizon

Group trips are a straightforward way for two organizations to begin a growing collaboration. But TDC and DelArt’s plans don’t end there.

Giordano says, “We are excited that this is the beginning of a deeper partnership. We have so many shared goals and joint supporters. So many people are committed to the visual arts; it makes sense we are working collaboratively.”

She adds that this is not just a public relations move: the organizations intend to drive home the point that a strong artistic ecosystem is important for the future of artists in the area.

Shaffer says that the TDC sees itself as “…an organization that prepares artists to have a show at a place like the Delaware Art Museum.” Whether that means getting emerging artists in front of curators, offering residencies so artists can dedicate time to develop their art, or supporting an artist’s career by showcasing their work in an exhibition for the first time, it’s a community need. “We find it of value and so do they,” she says.

Giordano adds, “We need each other both to be strong, so that the emerging artist has access to studio space, the opportunity to hang their art in a show. It is a pipeline that is being built, so as an artist’s career strengthens, we may one day add them to our collections or mount their retrospectives here.”

“The ecosystem can’t function without both of us playing our respective parts,” says Giordano.

This is all on the heels of a trying financial period for not only the organizations, but for the general public.

Shaffer says that TDC is seeing the light at the end of tunnel, post-COVID, and that partnering with an organization with shared goals is natural.

“We are finding ways to be more efficient with our resources. Why would we both be doing the same thing with the same goals when we can do it together?”

Aside from resources, the organizations are looking at sharing information and experiences across their audiences, with the goal of creating a more successful product for both the museums and the visitors.

A feasibility study is under way. The organizations want to learn how they can build a bigger audience for what they do while identifying efficiencies.

Shaffer says, “We want to put the focus on art. Spend time building programs rather than raising funds.”

For more information on the bus trip, click here.

Photograph by Joe Del Tufo