Water Cooler Wednesday: The Arts Drive Delray

Black Violin inspired hundreds of children in Delray last week

Black Violin inspired hundreds of children in Delray last week

If you were one of the lucky people to have snagged a ticket to the sold-out performance of “Black Violin” at Plumosa Elementary School of the Arts last Saturday night, you experienced a magical night.

Two local musicians– Wil B. and Kev Marcus– rocked the house with a unique blend of classical hip-hop. People were literally dancing in the aisles at a violin concert. We kid you not.

The duo first took violin lessons in a public grade school and later teamed up at Dillard High in Fort Lauderdale, a partnership that eventually led to international appearances and touring with the likes of Alicia Keys.

Music was the key to their success; the spark that made school matter to two young men.

A similar spark saved Rashad and Tashad Gardenhire, two 20 year old Delray Beach twins who turned a nightmarish childhood into something positive through their music.

Performing as “Double Trouble”, the duo doesn’t shy away from their story: a father serving a life sentence and bouncing around in the foster care system.

Music saved their lives and may yet make them rich and famous. They are certainly off to a good start with a performance on TV’s “X Factor.” They warmed up for Black Violin and the local crowd loved them.

Rashad and Tashad are electrifying performers, putting their own spin to classics such as “Ain’t No Sunshine” and the Leonard Cohen staple “Hallelujah” which takes on new layers when you know their story.

From the stage they acknowledged the influence that Delray’s renowned Arts Garage has had on their young careers, giving them their first chance to perform as headliners in September with another show scheduled for later this month.

Meanwhile, at Plumosa Elementary School, once endangered with dwindling enrollment, a new facility and an arts magnet has reignited passion for the school—as evidenced by Saturday’s sold-out performance and a similar packed house for students and parents Friday.

Yes, the arts are an engine. Culture sparks creativity, inspiration, passion, joy and economic development.

Delray’s renaissance was sparked by the restoration of Old School Square, now known as the Delray Center for the Arts. The Arts Garage has benefitted Pineapple Grove, gained regional recognition and attracted serious music and theater fans from far and wide. But aside from providing unforgettable performances in an intimate venue—the same night that Black Violin performed legendary jazz guitarist Larry Coryell was performing for a standing room only house—the Arts Garage is teaching a generation of new artists through lessons and master classes.

A similar dynamic has been happening for more than 20 years at the Delray Center for the Arts, which also offers classes and a photography school that inspired students like Delray resident Stephanie Brown to pursue a career in the field. Today, Ms. Brown studies at the prestigious Savannah College of Art & Design, where she runs a successful photo business and has been named one of that city’s top photographers. Ask Stephanie what inspired her and she’ll point to her experience at Old School Square where she received a scholarship to study—the class opened up a new world for her and others.

A few blocks north of the Delray Center for the Arts, sits the newly branded Artist’s Alley, a blossoming enclave of professional artists who occupy warehouse space and host monthly gallery strolls that attract large crowds to once empty streets. Those artists were inspired to set up shop—in part—because of the Delray CRA’s decision to purchase an old warehouse that will soon become an arts warehouse—hopefully with some room for start-up businesses as well.

In short, the arts inspire but they also drive the local economy, making Delray Beach more than just a place with great restaurants, a nice beach and a bunch of events.

Recently retired Cultural Council Vice President Bill Nix once said that Delray needs to become not just an importer of the arts (by providing venues for visiting artists to perform) but an exporter as well. We need to become a city that produces artists and entrepreneurs and a place that attracts those who want to grow in their chosen creative field.

We should be proud to say that we are well on our way. Rashad and Tashad, Stephanie and the many students being touched by Drew Tucker at The Arts Garage and others at the Delray Center for the Arts are proof that young artists are finding a place to pursue their talents in Delray.

And this is just the start.

The Milagro Center has done a tremendous job over the years using arts education to reach needy children.

Plumosa is at capacity enrollment in large part because of a new facility and an emphasis on the arts.

Delray should be proud of the investments it has made in culture and the arts. It has positioned our city as a magnet for the creative class who are driving the 21st century economy.

Like any investment, we should expect a return. And we are, with new businesses, visitors, rising property values downtown and a growing reputation as a creative and progressive city. Some of the returns are tangible—measured in investment dollars. But there’s another type of return that is also valuable: quality of life and the quality of lives transformed and inspired by the arts.