How Do Full-Time Artists Make it in Delaware?

Here are four local makers' success stories.


Published:

Heidi Lowe works on a piece of jewelry in her Rehoboth studio.

 

Heidi Lowe

When Heidi Lowe decided to study art, her mom begged her to get a teaching degree so she would have something to fall back on. It’s not hard to image thousands of parents having similar conversations with their creative children.

And yet, the arts represent a $150 million industry in Delaware, providing nearly 4,000 jobs and generating $10 million in local and state revenue. Nationally, the nonprofit arts industry generates $166 billion in economic activity, supporting 4.6 million jobs and generating $27.5 billion in government revenue according to the fifth Arts & Economic Prosperity study by Americans for the Arts.

Clearly, some artists don’t need that fall-back degree.

From age 13, Heidi Lowe sold beaded creations in shops along Rehoboth Beach and dreamed of making jewelry for a living. In 2006, she returned home to open The Heidi Lowe Gallery.

“My gallery is my art as much as jewelry-making; they are intertwined.”

Her contemporary art gallery allows her to teach, make commissioned pieces, create her own art and show the work of other artists. “They are all creative in different ways.”

Lowe, who is married, works at least eight hours a day, six days a week. And, while she would enjoy a two-day weekend, she wouldn’t give it up. “I love to come to work. I get to work with other artists who staff the gallery and with the public.” She also coaches other artists, telling them: “Stay true to what you want” and avoid under-pricing their work. “No discounts for others, not even friends.”

Lowe is proud to mark her 11th anniversary because the economy was shaky when she opened her doors. For eight years, she taught outside of the gallery to make ends meet, and invented new ways to attract new clients, like a popular class where a bride and groom make their wedding bands together.

Early on, she dreaded commission work, but she has moved to a “new level” and is enjoying some of her best commissions this year. She is finishing a husband’s gift to his wife who is completing cancer treatment. The piece was inspired by photos of cancer cells under attack during treatment.

One challenge she continues to face is convincing others that jewelry is art. “It’s a big leap for people,” she said, but she’s working on it.

Brad Vanneman working on sculpture of Dr.
Jerome H. Holland, Delaware State University
presidents from 1953 to 1959.

Brad Venneman

If you have a figurine of Mickey Mouse or a holiday candle from Bed, Bath & Beyond, you probably own the art of Brad Vanneman, who has been making a living as a contract sculptor for close to four decades.

“I’m willing to do just about anything related to sculpture,” he said of how he has stayed busy working for The Franklin Mint (he cold-called for an interview), Lenox and Disney. “By doing what I was offered, I got better.” He also worked long hours. “I literally worked night and day when my girls were in high school and college.” The flexibility to put in more effort was an important factor in his success.

He also had a wonderful mentor in noted American sculptor Charles Cropper Parks who was local. Vanneman helped Parks as he retired and during that time grew into what he calls a “real sculptor” creating a well-known local piece called “Wisdom Begins with Wonder,” which is on display in Smyrna and setting the stage for his current project: a life-size sculpture of Dr. Jerome Holland, former president of Delaware State College.

Asked about keys to success, Vanneman cites the basics: show up on time, meet your deadlines, but added, “Leave your ego at the door and bring your brain to work.”

Adam Ledford

Adam Ledford has a lot in common with Lowe: he graduated during the recession and relies on teaching to keep some money in the bank. As a potter, Ledford also faces the public perception issue Lowe faces: people don’t value pottery as fine art. “That’s my reality,” he said.

That issue comes into play as he tries to price his work. “I’ve had a few commissions, but I’m not good [at] pricing. I don’t understand the concept of money, in that I don’t understand how people value art and what I do.”

Based in Philly, Ledford shares an apartment with four others, and rides a bike because he doesn’t own a car. While he is focused on “figuring out how to make more money,” he cobbles together an income through grants, awards, a few commissions, side work for a pottery studio and teaching stints with the Philadelphia Art Museum and the Clay Studio. He turns to public assistance from time to time.

Unlike some artists, Ledford enjoys teaching. “I’m good at it.” He recently taught a series of claymation workshops for youth in rural Morocco. Since he didn’t speak the language, he connected with his students by acting out the “how-to” steps. Through the Clay Studio’s Claymobile he has taught individuals who are blind or disabled and regularly teaches in the Juvenile Justice System. “Tactile experiences like working with clay are rare in a digital world,” Ledford said. People like the experience.

What would make him pack it in? If his building was sold and he was evicted, that might drive him to a job or grad school, “the last great escape for an artist,” he said.

“I’ll continue finding a way to make it work. Art is self-affirming. I know I’m a better person to be around when I’m doing my art.”

Ledford’s work is currently on display at The Delaware Contemporary.

Daniel Johnson's photo-realistic oil
painting, "Bozo."

Daniel Jackson

Claymont artist Daniel Jackson works in oils and photography, and in some cases it’s hard to tell the difference between his paintings and his photos. His paintings are as realistic as his photos are technical. But, his subject may be inflated pool toys peeking around backyard trees. “I like art that doesn’t take itself seriously,” he said.

In the early days, going back to college in the early 1990s, Jackson relied on commissioned portraits of kids and corporate executives and photography work for himself and fellow artists. However, he avoided seeking gallery representation because he didn’t like the profit-sharing model which is typically 50/50. But, portrait work has its downsides.

One bad haircut can postpone a sitting — and a paycheck — for a month, so he agreed to exhibit at the Carspecken Scott Gallery & Custom Framing in Wilmington when the owner discovered his work.

Suddenly the benefits of the gallery became clear. “They need product to sell and will market your art to literally hundreds of people.” He encourages artist to not take rejection from a gallery personally. If one gallery said ‘no’ find another.

From Carspecken, Jackson connected with the Dolby Chadwick Gallery in San Francisco which still shows his work more than a decade later. Gallery work allowed him to move from portraits to paintings and now he is planning to spend more time with photography.

“Fine art photography is like fine art,” he said. It takes skill and technical know-how. Artists need high-quality photos to document their work and for marketing. But photography has another benefit. “I can walk into any business and convince the owner to pay me a few hundred dollars for professional quality photos which will instantly improve his web site. You can’t do that with art,” Jackson said.

Early on, Jackson found that he needs to be productive all the time and he advises others to do the same. He offers a few other tips:

  • Be honest with yourself about what will and won’t sell. “I’d do better if I was more mercenary and painted what sells,” he said.
  • Accept the fact that you’ll never get to the “greater art world” where paintings sell for millions. “You can make a decent living, but you won’t get to that level.”

While there are harsh realities to being a working artist, the gains are clearly worth it to Jackson.

“It can be exhilarating at times. I’ve been jubilant in my career … and there are those tiny moments when I think ‘I did good,’ ” he said.


This article originally appeared on DelawareBusinessTimes.com

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February 2018

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

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This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Website »

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The Philly Home + Garden Show will return to the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks February 16-18. The show will feature highly-interactive exhibits including a full scale model smart home,...

Cost: 10

Where:
Greater Philadelphia Expo Center
100 Station Ave
Oaks, PA  19456
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Sponsor: MarketPlace Events
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By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society in partnership with The Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice are proud to present the inaugural Rehoboth Beach African-American Film Festival. The mission...

Cost: $10

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

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"Choir Boy" presents a complex look at race and sexuality. Shows are at 8pm on February 16 and 17; there is a 2pm matinee on Sunday February 18. Buy tickets online at www.WilmingtonDramaLeague.org.

Cost: $10-$15

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 302-764-1172
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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

Tickets are $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students. Tickets are available at the door. Cash or check only.

Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

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Show More...
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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Nanticoke Memorial Hospital will host a four-session diabetes educational program, The Diabetes Connection, on February 6, 13, 20 and 27 from 9:30 am to 11:30 am. Pre-registration is required. As...

Cost: Call for cost.

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
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Telephone: 302-629-6611 x2288
Contact Name: Nanticoke's Diabetes Education Department
Website »

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By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

FREE COMMUNITY EVENT: MID-WEEK WORD REFRESHER Come join us at the Mid-Week Word Refresher every Wednesday at Faith Victory Christian Center from 11:00am - 12:00pm. Refreshments will be...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Faith Victory Christian Center
301 Commonwealth Avenue
Claymont, DE  19703
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Sponsor: Faith Victory Christian Center
Telephone: 302.354.6726
Contact Name: Alvin Walker
Website »

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By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

Join DCH, New Castle Conservation District staff, and Delaware Cooperative Extension to grow and learn together through an entire season! Classes are designed for a beginner, but seasoned gardeners...

Cost: $20 members; $30 non-members

Where:
Delaware Center for Horticulture
1810 N. Dupont Street
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Sponsor: Delaware Center for Horticulture
Telephone: (302) 658-6262
Contact Name: Ruth Arias
Website »

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Clearing the mind and learning to think not thinking is Zen awareness. Taking the appropriate action in this moment is Zen. Once you know this in your body, walking, standing, sitting down,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Newark
420 Willa Road
Newark, DE  19711
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Sponsor: UUFN
Telephone: 302.368.2984
Contact Name: Richard Field
Website »

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Show More...
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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

This community event invites attendees to sample healthy dishes prepared by local restaurants and vote for the most creative, tastiest, and best preparation. The first 200 registrants may also sign...

Where:
STAR Health Sciences Complex
540 S. College Ave
Newark, DE  19713
View map »


Website »

More information

Explore connections between people and plants in these four inspiring presentations. Special thanks to Whole Foods Market for sponsoring this  year’s refreshments. Individual lecture pricing:...

Cost: $20 members; $30 non-members

Where:
Delaware Center for Horticulture
1810 N. Dupont Street
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Center for Horticulture
Telephone: (302) 658-6262
Contact Name: Mackenzie Knight-Fochs
Website »

More information

Tickets are $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students. Tickets are available at the door. Cash or check only.

Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The area’s largest sale of gently used books has been scheduled by the Wilmington branch of the American Association of University Women. The 49th annual Dollars for Scholars Used Book Sale, to...

Cost: free

Where:
Concord Mall
4737 Concord Pike
North Wilmington, DE  19803
View map »


Sponsor: American Association of University Women
Telephone: 302-428-0939

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through a story reading followed by an interactive tour of relevant works of art and a studio art project. This program encourages...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
View map »


Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The area’s largest sale of gently used books has been scheduled by the Wilmington branch of the American Association of University Women. The 49th annual Dollars for Scholars Used Book Sale, to...

Cost: free

Where:
Concord Mall
4737 Concord Pike
North Wilmington, DE  19803
View map »


Sponsor: American Association of University Women
Telephone: 302-428-0939

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Ronald Barron was principal trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1975 until 2008. He joined the orchestra in 1970 after being a member of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and also...

Cost: Free

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

Celebrate the 12th Annual Chinese New Year at the Delaware Art Museum! This celebration includes traditional Chinese art activities, artist demonstrations, a lion and folk dance, a Chinese yo-yo...

Cost: Free; donations accepted

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

For this Saturday’s activity, visitors will have fun with fluid dynamics and hydraulics - Pascal would be proud! Visitors of all ages are invited to discover solutions to science and engineering...

Cost: Free with admission; Adults: $14, Children 6-14: $5, Children 5 and under: Free

Where:
Hagley Museum and Library
200 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-658-2400
Website »

More information

Lights of Life Goes Disco Nights is Delaware’s premier breast cancer fundraiser to benefit the local programs and services of the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition. Join us for a glamorous, fun...

Cost: *VIP $125.00; *Silver Mirror Ball $50.00

Where:
Dover Downs Hotel
, 1131 North Dupont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition
Telephone: 302-778-1102
Contact Name: Eliza Mohler
Website »

More information

The Newark Symphony Chamber Orchestra presents a performance of Johann Baptist George Neruda, Trumpet Concerto in E flat, with Wendell Banyay, Trumpet.  Also to be featured will be Gabriel Faure,...

Cost: 0 - $20

Where:
Newark United Methodist Church
69 E. Main St.
Newark, DE  19711
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