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Middletown Life

From alley to artwork Middletown graphic designer wants to touch your heart and inspire your soul

Aug 18, 2023 11:45AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Drewe Phinny
Contributing Writer

Middletown has a long tradition of artistic achievement and community support of iconic landmarks such as the Everett Theatre and the Gilbert W. Perry, Jr. Center for the Arts, which is nicknamed the Gibby.

The most recent example of the town’s creativity is an imaginative project that has turned an alleyway between general parking at 24 West Main Street into Inspirational Alley, a beautification effort that will include a 40-foot mural and impressive exhibits. It’s a joint effort involving three art students, Quinn Stoops, Emily Graney and Jailyn Martin, from Appoquinimink High and Joe and Dawn Graney from A creative Edge (ACE) Design Studio and Offices on Main Street.

A Creative Edge provides creative solutions (inspiring by design). At the helm of ACE is Dawn Graney, who opened a business in 2011. Dawn has also worked with Happy Harry’s Retail Corporate Headquarters, the Eagle Group Manufacturing Corp and MBNA. And now, she and her family have taken on, perhaps, her most ambitious challenge—transforming an unsightly alley filled with trash into an outdoor art design display that citizens can enjoy with a new sense of civic pride.

Dawn and her family wanted to purchase the old Transcript (newspaper) building, but the price was out of their range. So with some creative financing and unconventional maneuvering, a deal was struck. “I was always worried they would take this building that had so much history and just tear it down,” Dawn said. “I wrote them a heartfelt letter about the history of the town and how, when I was a little girl, my family would come to town for errands. Dad and Mom would stop with us every few weeks to put an ad in the Transcript for their business, Ben Dutcher Mason Contracting, then stop for a little window shopping at the Treasure Chest, Hattons, the hardware store and the bakery. Then $1.00 spaghetti night at Pappy’s. Just explaining to this big company, not local, tasked with selling the Transcript Building, how important to the town history, how the small businesses like the Transcript really are—you have to love the town you’re in and support small businesses before they are no longer here.”

She continued, “We told the sellers, if they considered selling to us, we would rent it back for the first year for free and we would do a dedication on the side of the building. Months later, they contacted us and eventually, the offer was accepted. It was just meant to be. We did a lot of the cleanup and repairs ourselves. First State Finest Security Services are now in the front of the building and Arts By Angelova has rented the space in the back and has a beautiful gallery there now. Irina [Turner] is a perfect fit for Inspirational Alley with her amazing art style and spirit. We are keeping the building name—The Transcript. There are also professional business spaces being added in dedication to The Transcript.”

Once they had cleaned up the alley, Dawn and her team worked on removing the garbage cans, which just didn’t have a welcoming feel.

“We started on designing displays to hang,” she said. “Then we began the four-season mural with our three talented volunteers.”

Now the 40-foot mural is almost done. When you walk through, you can see the different artist styles and the amount of hours they have spent to create this four-season mural for the community to enjoy. That includes fun signs and information that supports events on Main Street. They are still putting finishing touches on the alley.

The whole point was to make it a beautiful thruway to Main Street from the public lot that would inspire people that walk through and make them smile.

“We called it project hope and named the alley Inspirational Alley,” she explained. “As you walk through, there are little sayings meant to lift people’s spirits and one display is a nod to the farming community’s hard work. The displays included history about the Transcript and town. We donated, designed, fabricated and installed the panels. We also created a butterfly wing display, symbolizing the butterfly effect, where people can have their pictures taken, promoting the premise that dreams can come true. Everything you see in that alley is all good and pure. The mission is to inspire others and hope that it is contagious, and they pass on the good. The butterfly effect.”

The Middletown Transcript paper bin was repurposed to create a little free art library, a similar concept to the free book library, but with art. People can stroll down the alley and place little art inspirations for others or take one. A little art swap.

Dawn requested and received a $1,500 grant available for a mural and decided to reward the kids who had worked so hard for the project.

“We divided it among the three kids and each got a $500 scholarship for college,” she said. “That came from Main Street Organization. They also gave us a couple benches and planters. We really cleaned up the alley.”

Dawn’s group went through proper request procedures with the town and proposed their ideas to town officials, who were supportive and granted permission.

“We’re also donating 300 t-shirts related to Inspiration Alley and downtown – Believe You are the good in the world.”

There’s also a Facebook page which promotes the good in the community and often features animals that need homes.

As Dawn and her family continue to “spread the good,” poignant moments are bound to happen. A young man named JP Henry from Earleville, Md. stopped by one day with his mother. He also happened to be an excellent photographer. Dawn asked him if he would want to contribute one of his digital photos which would hang in the alley. He had a huge smile when he walked through.

“We called it Project Hope,” she said. “I named the alley “Inspirational Alley.”

The combined efforts, the Graneys, the art students, the town support, the Main Street Organization, and volunteers is what community is about. It’s a team effort that cleaned up the alley and made it into a nice path for all to stroll down and enjoy.

Small downtown businesses are built on long hours, hard work and sacrifice. But don’t forget, it’s about community too. There are lots of businesses in the community doing good things. Embrace that good and pass it along by coming downtown to support those small merchants.

Dawn and Joe Graney, and the rest of their family, show a refreshingly positive approach to life. There are so many talented people in the Middletown community and sharing that creativity to inspire others is what it’s all about. It’s what you give in your lifetime, and money isn’t always the answer. It’s the difference you make in someone else’s life. We all have the ability to bring smiles and joy to others. The Graney family hopes to see more folks downtown visiting the cute shops, pubs, eateries, services, entertainment venues and, of course, Inspirational Alley.

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