Aiming to empower both artists and the community

A Dewey Beach woman and a growing tribe of local artists, known as the Dewey Artist Collaboration, have joined forces for support and to give back to the community.

“We’re young, hungry, energetic and inspired,” said executive director Leah Beach. “We like to do things a little off-the-wall.”

Beach is an enthusiastic 27-year-old with big ideas. She’s an accomplished artist herself, having traveled to Africa to photograph dementia patients in developing countries.

Beach grew up near Dover and returned to Delaware in 2015. One day she found herself on Dewey Beach painting skim boards with a few other artists. That’s where the idea for an artists’ collaboration took hold and, a few months later, they came together as the DAC.

“We realized that we artists need more opportunities, so maybe we could get together and start showing our art together,” Beach said.

The first thing the newly-formed DAC did was organize the Dewey Beach Sip and Shop. The opportunity for artists to showcase and sell their work at the start of the holiday season was a major success. It’s now held every year at The Starboard in Dewey Beach, on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday.

“Sip and Shop is our only event of the year that is all about artist sales,” Beach said. “We are all about career building, but that promotes people embracing holiday shopping in a different way – buying from local artists instead of big box stores.”

Since that first Sip and Shop, the collaborative has had something of a growth spurt, gaining 64 active members from all over Sussex County. They range in age from 14 to 74. They’ve also garnered a reputation for popular arts events.

As the organization grew, so did its purpose and mission.

“We empower the careers of our artists through resources and opportunities, allowing them to showcase work, and we ask them to give back by volunteering in our outreach programs,” Beach said. “The bigger vision is to get to a place where community development takes over the pop-up arts kind of stuff that we do, but to do that we need money and sustainability.”

Right now, the group is in a transitional period, attempting to move from all-volunteer governance to a paid, working staff.

“This is my unpaid full-time job right now,” Beach said. “And we want to get to a point where artists don’t have to pay to be a part of anything.”

To that end, the DAC has three shows in the coming months that are projected to generate about $25,000: Artland, Taco Mania and Art on the Rocks. They’re all hotly anticipated around town and very likely to sell out.

Arts events

Artland will be hosted by Funland, the first of its kind ever hosted by the beloved Rehoboth Beach boardwalk amusement park. On Thursday, Sept. 6, from 5-9 p.m., Artland ticketholders will have unlimited access to Funland rides and the artist displays throughout. VIP pass holders are invited to come early to play games like skee-ball, Wack-a-Mole and Frog Bog for a chance to win hundreds of dollars in gift cards.

“It’s the first time Funland’s ever done anything like this,” Beach said. “We’re trying to engage the community and have more family-friendly events geared toward locals, so I think that kind of ideology kind of matched Funland’s.”

Following Artland will be Taco Mania, the second of its kind, at Big Chill Beach Club in Delaware Seashore State Park. Starting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, artists’ sugar skulls will be on display for silent auction, while about 15 restaurants create tacos and margaritas for ticketholders to try.

Rounding out the fall lineup will be Art on the Rocks, Saturday, Oct. 6, in partnership with the Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival. At noon at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center, 15 artists will be paired with restaurants to compete for the best jazz fest-themed cocktail and accompanying art. The event will feature live music.

“We’re trying to get people who might not be that interested in art,” Beach said. “We’re trying to engage a new type of art enthusiast.”

In addition, the DAC holds Art in the Yard and Arts and Drafts every month.

Art in the Yard pushes the boundaries of what an art gallery is, with artists outdoors at, for example, Dewey’s Northbeach bar or the Rehoboth Avenue property of the Heidi Lowe Gallery.

Arts and Drafts uses breweries for interesting venues in which to host DIY classes. The breweries often create signature beers to go with the art.

Community outreach

As it evolves, the organization hopes its events raise money and increase artists’ exposure, but also contribute to community needs. In a step toward that goal, the inspired artists program begins this fall.

“The inspired artists program is in partnership with the Cape Henlopen School District. We’re starting out at Beacon Middle School,” Beach said. “We’re not just painting and doing crafts with them. We’re essentially helping them understand what having an art career really means and helping them build it.”

Also this fall, the collaborative will begin working with Immanuel Shelter in west Rehoboth Beach.

“We have a large homeless population here simply because housing is so expensive. We’re going into this partnership with an open mind and just asking them what they need,” Beach said.

She said there could be art therapy and classes in which the homeless learn to make soap, candles and other tangible goods that they could sell to support themselves.

The community garden, in its pilot phase, is geared toward the homeless and low-income population.

“We have a huge vision for West Rehoboth,” Beach said. “Instead of pushing people out of the area, we want to give them a better quality of life.”

Right now, the community garden is a narrow strip of land in West Rehoboth full of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and herbs, built with donations from landscaping companies and Gary’s Dewey Beach Grill. It’s ready to be harvested in the coming weeks and much of the harvest will be turned into sauces. Along with recipe cards, the goods will be distributed to West Rehoboth residents.

Beach sees the garden becoming part of the partnership with the Immanuel Shelter in the future, and not just as a food source.

“We are keeping our eye on land in West Rehoboth for a larger-scale community garden, and we hope it will help create jobs for the homeless and people in crisis,” she said.

A place for artists

A building wasn’t a goal, but when an opportunity popped up in 2017, the DAC was quick to snatch a 2,500 square-foot West Rehoboth warehouse when the price was right.

It’s operating as a working space and storage for artists for now, but Beach has bigger plans. The group has commissioned an architect to create plans for professional studio spaces.

“The plan is to open it during the holidays and let artists sell there,” she said. “We want to have music and beer and give people an opportunity to support local artists.”

To pay for warehouse improvements and further develop the DAC’s initiatives, the organization began a founding visionaries campaign in which they’re hoping to find 100 donors willing to give $100. They’re also always seeking new artists and volunteers, who don’t necessarily have to be artistic.

“We embrace anyone and everyone, we love new ideas. We are interested in people in marketing, in finance – people that aren’t artists are our allies,” Beach said. “We will take anyone who wants to be a part of our family. We’re looking to grow.”

For more information about the Dewey Artists Collaboration, including how to join, volunteer and donate, and details on future shows, visit deweyarts.org.