In 1996 Tracy Wilkes established a safe, fun-filled environment for ILM children to explore, create and flourish. Two decades later, DREAMS of Wilmington has welcomed more than 1,000 children and their families with open arms, and helped every student realize his or her full potential. On Friday, July 28, DREAMS will celebrate their 20th anniversary with a new exhibit called “A Glance Back.” They will display work from both former and current students in an effort to reconnect with past students, teachers, board members, staff, and volunteers, while giving the public an inside look at what great things have been going on at the arts nonprofit.
“The show will be representative of DREAMS, in that there will be all different types of visual mediums represented,” says Bess Butterworth, director of marketing and community outreach for DREAMS. “I can tell you there will be plenty of prints and photographs, as well as some pieces from our sculpture and pottery classes.”
Currently, the DREAMS staff doesn’t have a set number of artwork that be on display, as they continue to find more incredible work tucked away in their archives. As well there current summer campers continue to create new work on a weekly basis, which may make an appearance on the walls.
With 15 outreach sites throughout Wilmington, DREAMS offers over 60 classes per week in art, music, photography, and performing arts. The center even offers classes in specialized areas, like sewing and design, upcycling furniture, jewelry making, and gardening, in accord to the students’ ever-expanding interests. Butterworth’s favorite aspect is the diversity of talents that come together under one roof. The possibilities are innumerable.
“A cardboard dragon propped up by six students could fly past my office, or I could wander in to discover the hallway floor is completely covered in glitter,” Butterworth explains. “There could be a rock band made up of 8- to 11-year-olds performing in the lobby or a student could be choreographing their very first piece in the dance studio.”
DREAMS believes children and teens who thrive in school are more compassionate, and possess a strong sense of community when involved in the arts. They regularly invite artists from all over the world to give students a broader perspective and insight on the possibilities of pursuing a craft professionally.
“Including our outreach sites, we currently have around 140 students enrolled in classes at the DREAMS building,” Butterworth adds. “This number will grow with the coming academic year. Many of the very first DREAMers now have children of their own whom they plan to enroll in DREAMS.”
One alumni student, Tranelle Waterman, started classes at DREAMS when she 9 years old. “My life was forever changed the moment I let my rebellious guard down and welcomed the program with an open mind,” Waterman recalls. “The place was the equivalent of Disney Land for the arts.”
Thanks to DREAMS, Waterman had her poetry published in a book, art work hung in downtown Wilmington, and even made her first CD by age 11. She her saw goals become a reality.
“If that kind of support doesn’t give a child the mindset that anything is possible, I don’t know what will,” she tells. “I got to see my first Broadway musical, ‘Wicked,’ with DREAMS, and I was captivated ever since—eventually becoming an actress here in Wilmington, participating in dozens of productions, all due to that passion DREAMS first ignited within me.”
After Waterman graduated aout of DREAMS, she returned to the center to teach theatre. Now pregnant with her first child, she is actually having her baby shower at DREAMS. Thus even as adults, DREAMS support continues.
“A fellow DREAMer, who attended the program with me, had her wedding at dreams,” Waterman adds. “That place impacts your life and heart forever. I am still very close to my classmates from over a decade ago.”
DREAMS recently launched their 20/20 campaign on their website with a goal to accept as many $20 donations as possible. Better yet, an anonymous benefactor has pledged to match all funds raised up to $100,000.
“Our plans are to continue to grow while, at the same time, nurturing the relationships we have made along the way,” Butterworth says. “We have a saying here at DREAMS: Once a DREAMer, always a DREAMer.”
“A Glance Back” opens Friday evening and is open to the public.