For watercolor artist Karen Gulick, having the Greater Millsboro Art League open again means the opportunity to join the creatively like-minded.
“We are new to the community. I was looking for an art community because I’m an artist. I paint with watercolors. I do a little bit of everything, whatever strikes my fancy,” she said as she flipped through photographs of her works on her cell phone and walked through the art league building in downtown Millsboro with her husband, Russell.
“It’s a nice little community. I think I’m going to be a good fit,” she said.
Art league Director Deb Doucette greeted guests who were invited to enjoy a cold beverage, fruits and cheeses, and said she was pleased with the turnout at the Greater Millsboro Art League’s Grand Reopening on the evening of Friday, Aug. 6.
“We want people to have affordable art. Nobody is ever turned away. Tonight, everybody was happy to be here. People came from all over Sussex County. We look forward to having more classes,” she said.
Nearby, league Board Member Janet Denson was selling raffle tickets for a quilt on display, made by Skip Claiborne, known as the “Quilt Guy.”
“There are a lot of classes coming, and people are interested in coming out and doing some art. Tonight, they have been saying they are glad to see we are open again. The art league was closed for a year. It brings people to downtown,” Denson said.
“We are up to 85 members, and 30 more will be joining us in September, from the Modern Quilt Guild in the Lewes area. Tonight, we want to thank the mayor and town council. We wouldn’t be here without them,” said Claiborne, who started the Arts Warming Hearts program in early 2020, to give comforting quilts to the homeless and those who have been abused.
Soon after the program was started, the Millsboro Police Department received seven quilts that were distributed to victims by Vonshea Wise, victim services specialist for the police department. She described them as lovely, award-winning quilts with designs ranging from a gingerbread theme to pretty blue stripes.
This week, she said she is continuing to receive quilts and that victims — adults and children — are surprised and touched when they receive them.
“It’s going really great. It’s awesome. People really appreciate it, especially if they are going through a tough time. Knowing people are thinking of them, they definitely appreciate it,” she said.
The police department has a domestic violence and sexual assault coordinator who is specifically trained to investigate incidents, and Wise “is there to support the victims and help them find resources,” she said.
“If they are moving, relocating, finding shelter, getting assistance with medical bills, that kind of thing,” explained Wise, who joined the police department in July 2019.
“I’m very excited about this program. These quilts will show them somebody cares about them. If I were in this situation and having to go through something stressful, it would be nice to know there are people out there who care about me. I think it will make people feel good just to know there are people willing to support them and care about them,” she said.
Police Chief Brian Calloway said he was pleased to partner with the art league and, at the time, said the program set Millsboro’s Police Department apart from those in big cities because “we really can partner within our community and have these types of programs that can reach out to people in need.”
“I really have to give credit to the art league. … Deb called and asked if I was interested in these quilts. This is an example of people in the community caring about others and it is truly something I admire, that there are people out there dedicated to helping,” Calloway said.
But soon afterward, life changed due to coronavirus restrictions and subsequent closings, including the art league. Its future was uncertain, but there was good news in May this year when the Millsboro Town Council helped the financially struggling non-profit, allowing it to remain open.
After hearing several comments from those in favor of the Town continuing to lease the art league building, at 203 Main Street, to the league, and a request for a little more time to catch up on unpaid rent, Councilman Tim Hodges made a motion for the Town to enter into a one-year lease with the organization, forgive three months of rent and require art league officials to report financial updates and membership numbers to Town officials every month.
The motion passed and was met with thanks from those representing the art league.
Before the council voted, Town Manager Sheldon Hudson acknowledged that there have been “payment issues in the past.”
“This has been an ongoing challenge. That is my concern — the end game. From a financial standpoint it’s been a challenge. … You don’t want to effectively be unfair to other organizations by treating one organization differently. That’s one of the concerns I have,” he said.
But Claiborne stood and explained that coronavirus restrictions had forced classes to be canceled and caused a decrease in revenue for the league. Classes would resume, he said, with offerings including mixed media and fabric, and Family Fun Nights would start again.
“We need your help,” Claiborne told council members. All rent was paid during the coronavirus pandemic except for two months, he said.
Hudson said the two months of late rent was paid just before the meeting on Monday. The Millsboro Art League pays $550 per month in rent, and the Town pays for the utilities.
“We can’t make money if we are not open. We can’t charge dues because we are not open,” Doucette said.
Doucette called the art league “a credit to the community” and repeated that it would be revitalized. Claiborne told council members those who go to the art league also go into town and spend money at restaurants and shops. Artists have given quilts to local residents, “and we are helping them,” he said.