County council gets an update from the Freeman Stage

Patti Grimes, of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation, gave Sussex County Council an update on The Freeman Stage at Bayside on April 11.

“If you can believe it, this is our 10th year,” said Grimes. “We want to thank Sussex County for being such a great partner and to let you know that what started as a vision in an arts desert in 2008 has turned into a thriving arts area.”

The Freeman Stage at Bayside, a program of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, presenting diverse programming in the genres of dance, live music, theatre and children’s programming.

Grimes said the foundation strives to be a source of exceptional cultural experiences for everyone of Sussex County. She noted that in 2016, the Stage had 15 national recording artists, 90 performances, and 41 arts in education events, “where children in all nine districts of Sussex County schools were able to participate in high quality arts experiences.”

She also noted that the stage saw 62,381 patrons that season.

“To put that into perspective, in year one, in 2008 we had 13,800. So I think you would agree we’ve grown quite a bit in the last nine years,” she said, adding the stage has more than 222 volunteers.

“Collectively, our volunteers have contributed service in the amount of $725,000 when we use the independent sector’s rate.”

Stage sponsorships have grown over the years as well, from 24 in its first year to 302.

“That’s important because the community is supporting the arts in Sussex County.”

Since its first year in operation, the Freeman Stage has hosted almost a third of a million people, 50 national recording artists and more than 80,000 children.

“We have ticket buyers from 41 states, so it really helps the tourism industry,” said Grimes. “Something people may not associate the arts with is the economic impact… We’ve contributed back into our local community over $13 million since 2008.”

Notable acts gracing the stage this summer include comedian Jay Leno (June 30), country musician Hunter Hayes (July 28), and musical acts Chicago (Aug. 1) and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue (Aug. 3).

“I would proffer that it is easier and less expensive for a family to go to the Freeman Stage than it is to go to the movies.”

Grimes also thanked County Council for helping pay for the transportation costs for county children to be bussed to the stage for the Children in Arts education program.

“Sixty-two percent of those children have free or reduced lunch. That’s pervasive throughout all nine districts in the county and your transportation grants help bring those buses to the stage.”

Grimes said the Foundation will likely begin a capital campaign later this year, and noted how the organization is fiscally responsible.

“For every dollar that is raised to the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation, 80 cents of that dollar goes directly into programming, 16 cents is used to raise additional funds and only 4 cents goes to management and administration.”

Following her presentation, councilman Rob Arlett thanked Grimes and her team.

“We’re appreciative. You guys do such tremendous work for this county.”