The (Not So) Great Divide
The difference between upstate and downstate isn’t what it used to be. Here’s why.
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“Southern Delaware is not just a three-month part of the state, but for those who look for it, it is a cosmopolitan atmosphere that’s a little bit slower than where they came from,” says Barbara Morales, a Realtor in Rehoboth Beach. “They want to step it back, but they’re still looking for social and intellectual stimulation. They’ve looked everywhere else for that perfect blend, and they come back to Southern Delaware. It is small-town sophisticated.”
In recent years, the influx of gays and lesbians to Lewes and Rehoboth has combined with a migration of active retirees to change the local culture.
“The gay and lesbian population tends to be creative and open-minded, and as a result, they drive that cultural mass of activities,” says Forney. (He calls the Rehoboth-Lewes area “Delaware’s third-largest city,” behind Wilmington and Dover.) “You’ve got that faction coming from the Washington, D.C., area, the sophisticated Wilmington crowd coming down on the weekends, and the strength of an active retired population. There are enough people here now to support an enclave of free thinking.”
All of this free thinking and new energy has turned Kent and Sussex into a string of art galleries, performance venues, theater groups and art leagues that rivals New Castle County for the upper hand in culture. Connect the dots from Middletown’s Everett Theatre and the Smyrna Opera House to the Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover and the Milton Theatre, then keep on going.
Dover resident Susan Salkin and her husband used to spend one weekend a year on a blitz of the Ritz theaters in Philadelphia, where they would see up to 10 films in two or three days.
“We got a year’s supply of foreign and independent films in one weekend,” Salkin says. That was then. Last October, Salkin, deputy director of the Delaware Division of the Arts, spent four straight days at the Rehoboth Film Festival, where she saw the award-winning “Man on Wire,” “A Secret,” “Days and Clouds” and more.
The Rehoboth Beach event, now in its 11th year, has become known around the world as one of the leading festivals on the East Coast. The most recent set attendance records, and despite the economy, the festival recorded a 4 percent increase in ticket sales over the previous year. Nearly 50 of the 157 shows sold out.
The festival began in order to fill a void in Southern Delaware. It coincided with an influx of upscale suburban transplants who had access to indie, documentary and foreign films in their former communities. The Rehoboth Film Society now has a membership of 1,300 people from 16 states and a volunteer base just shy of 600. Many of them moved to the area from suburban Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and New York City.
Page 4: The (Not So) Great Divide, continues...