As Delaware’s largest city, Wilmington is located just 30 miles south of Philadelphia and is a midway point between New York City and Washington, D.C. Its central location and reputation as the “corporate capital of America” give this relatively small city with a population of approximately 72,000 a big-city feel while still being very walkable and maintaining its small-town charm.
The area now known as Wilmington was settled by the Lenape tribe just before Henry Hudson sailed up the Len-api Hanna, which was later renamed the Delaware River, and the area became the first Swedish settlement in North America in the mid-1600s. After a series of wars, the area fell under British rule and was presumably named after the British prime minister at the time, the Earl of Wilmington Spencer Compton. It later become a bustling port and market city.
Today, Wilmington boasts many cultural delights including a burgeoning restaurant scene, Wilmington is also known for its incredible summer festivals, including the annual Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, the largest free jazz festival on the East Coast. What’s more, several cultural festivals take place throughout the year including the Greek Festival, the Italian Festival, the Polish Festival, and the ShadFest, which welcomes the return of the American shad fish to the Brandywine waterways in late spring. And let’s not forget the Rockwood Park Ice Cream Festival or the popular female-fronted Ladybug Music Festival.
“All of these gatherings point to Wilmington as being a city of neighbors – people that know each other and spend their time gathering together and enjoying,” says Tina Betz, Director of Cultural Affairs for the City of Wilmington and Board President of Cityfest, the nonprofit presenting the Levitt AMP Wilmington Music Series at the Urban Artist Exchange (UAE) Amphitheater.
Levitt AMP Wilmington will be a key component in the city’s reimagining of Wilmington’s East Side, a once abandoned area near downtown that is predominantly African American. “It’s such an exciting project, and Levitt AMP Wilmington will be the first music series at the new amphitheater,” Betz says. Cityfest, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the quality of life for citizens of Wilmington, promote economic development, and stimulate community revitalization primarily through cultural and arts programming, in partnership with the City of Wilmington’s Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs and Christina Cultural Arts Center, applied for the Levitt AMP grant recognizing that the free music series could help play a vital part in stimulating civic engagement and bringing people together on the city’s East Side.
“Vibrant music and festivals are part of Wilmington’s fabric, but not all of Wilmington has these amenities easily accessible to people’s homes,” explains Betz. “The Levitt AMP series will bring live music to a part of the city that is often underserved in areas of the arts. We are excited to see the music enrich an already great neighborhood and to watch as the community starts to see the festival and the amphitheater as their own backyard.”
And enrich the neighborhood it will, with a diverse selection of artists performing an array of musical styles throughout the summer including past Levitt National Tour artists Black Violin, Afro-beat fused with jazz, hip-hop combined with classical, country and bluegrass, indie rock, and an all-female gospel ensemble, to name but a few.
The Levitt AMP music series is a key element in a slew of activities and events designed to welcome the community to the Urban Artist Exchange. In addition to the new amphitheater, former horse stables have been converted into in-demand artists’ studios, offices and spaces for community events. The design of UAE also features environmental improvements including rain gardens, porous pavement and a storm water management system to help mitigate water damage in an area that’s prone to flooding.
Betz adds that to help realize their vision for undertaking the ambitious project of transforming the once-blighted space, Cityfest were not only looking for funding, but also for “a network of knowledge and a like-mindedness in the power of the arts to transform communities that Levitt provides.”
The UAE, which is also being funded by the city’s budget, a state loan, grants and donations, is Wilmington’s first major creative placemaking project, and aligns beautifully with the Levitt Foundation’s mission to leverage the power of the arts in public spaces to create a more just and equitable society, and inspire joy, nourish well-being and create shared community experiences that foster connections.
To get the word out about the Levitt AMP Wilmington series, Cityfest is assembling a street team of local teens to flyer their neighborhoods and is “using the full power of the City of Wilmington’s social media and communications team” to encourage people to come out every Wednesday night, Betz says.
“We’re not only presenting the Levitt AMP series at the site, but also a series of other engagements to bring in the community,” she adds. “And we’ve carefully curated the concerts to feature incredible performers who we believe will make the neighbors feel excited and welcome.”
The Levitt AMP Wilmington Music Series continues through August 23.