It takes just one person to inspire a community. That is the legacy of the late Della Brown Hardman, educator, artist, writer, mother and friend. As residents and visitors in Oak Bluffs have witnessed since Della’s death in 2005, an inspired community can keep alive such a legacy through continued effort.
The annual Della Hardman Day celebration of the arts is tomorrow in Ocean Park. This will be the eighth year that a neighborhood, town and Island gather to celebrate art and life, Della-style.
“We should not forget that [Della Hardman Day] originated with the selectmen,” said Betty Rawlins, a longtime friend of Della’s. “I think back to when it started. The chairman of the selectmen declared that every last Saturday in July would be Della Hardman Day.”
And of course, there was the community that led the event.
“The first year of Della Hardman Day, Della was alive and well,” said Andrea Taylor, Della’s daughter. “It was 2005, and her former students organized a series of events in her honor to thank her for the influence she had had in their artistic careers. There were 60 or 70 participants.”
The event then received perpetual status, thanks to the formal vote and designation by the selectmen. And though the title remains Della Hardman Day, the celebration now spans the weekend.
“As long as there are people who want to organize it, the sanction has been given to do so,” explained Ms. Taylor. “The momentum continues. The day celebrates the best of what Martha’s Vineyard and Oak Bluffs have to offer.”
“Della was a very gifted person who touched and inspired many,” said Kathleen Burton, chairman of the Oak Bluffs selectmen. “The Oak Bluffs selectmen are pleased and proud to remember her legacy by celebrating Della Hardman Day.”
A special committee plans the events for the celebration. “She has a group of dedicated followers. And we are available for whatever help they need,” Ms. Burton said.
“Their support is really priceless,” Ms. Taylor said of the selectmen. “They offer the space and endorsement we need to keep the event going.”
And all who knew Della, or simply celebrate in her fashion, keep the event going with their enthusiasm and appreciation for creativity and lifelong learning.
A Facebook page for Della Hardman Day 2012 is decorated with excited RSVPs and praise.
“I will be there. It is the place to be on the Vineyard,” Jonnie C. Marshall wrote.
“Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about Della,” added Marie B. Allen.
Corinne de Langavant simply posted, “Yes!”
Ms. Taylor thought about what her mother would think if she could see the event today. “She would be overwhelmed!” Ms. Taylor decided. “She’d be astounded that people cared this much, and that she had touched so many people in a lasting way, whether she knew them for a brief time or over a lifetime.
“And it’s funny, I think if my mother were alive, she’d be the ultimate Facebook user.” Della knew just about everybody, and loved taking and sharing pictures, Ms. Taylor said.
The events begin tomorrow at 4 p.m. under a tent in Ocean Park. Selectman Walter Vail will speak on behalf of the town, followed by a reading by Nikki Giovanni, an internationally-renowned poet, activist, and educator. Ms. Giovanni is a firm believer in the power of the individual to make a change in the world.
The winners of the Della Hardman Day essay contest will receive their prizes at the reception. More than 50 contestants answered the question, “Should students be allowed to use digitaldevices during the school day?” The top three winning essays were published in the July 24 issue of the Gazette.
The Sunset Concert with Jim Thomas and the Spirituals Choir and dancer Christina Montoya takes place on Sunday evening at 5 p.m. at the East Chop Lighthouse. Free tours of the lighthouse are sponsored by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.
And finally, the Della Hardman Day Savor the Moment Art Prize, sponsored by the Featherstone Center for the Arts, will be awarded at the All-Island Art Show on August 6 in The Tabernacle.
Ms. Taylor said, “The celebration in Ocean Park is a time when people can enjoy the afternoon breeze and hear and see some wonderful art.”
And, of course, it’s a time to do what Della did best — savor the moment.