The Palm Coast City Council this week approved grants for 13 cultural events by local non-profits, totaling $34,500. It’s an annual ritual going back many years. At 40 cents per resident per year it’s a very small sum, but it nevertheless provides some support for organizations that depend on every dollar to make it from season to season.
The grants are never controversial or much debated, going to almost the same set of organizations year after year: there were just three newcomers this year. But this time one event organizer that’s received a grant every year in recent memory–Palm Coast’s First United Methodist Church–drew an objection from a council member–not for the cultural programs it is presenting, but for the way it phrased a part of its grant application.
“One of the grant applicants describes their grant as an outreach ministry, and I don’t want to be in a position where the city is spending city fund to support religious outreach,” Council member Vincent Lyon said during the council’s workshop Tuesday.
He was referring to the way the Methodist church refers to itself as “an outreach ministry presenting programs for the enjoyment, education and personal enrichment of the greater Palm Coast community while supporting multi-cultural performing artists in interactive relationships with the residents of our community.”
Lyon had no objection to any of the concert series’ offerings the church proposes for the year, among them Daytona State College’s flute choir, the Palm Coast Chamber Players, a Christmas concert featuring Handel’s Messiah (an ostensibly Christian oratorio that has been delighting atheists, agnostics and other religions around the world since 1741) and the Flagler Youth Orchestra. “We provide a catalyst for students of the arts and the community who live vastly different lives in different parts of our community to appreciate and experience each other,” the church states in its application. “Our audience consists of three quarters from the Palm Coast community and one quarter from the host church.”
“I associate them with community concerts” open to the community, Council member Bob Cuff said, not, as he described it, “little kids dressed up in shepherds and the holy family.”
Lyon agrees. He considers Handel’s Messiah “an amazing piece of music” despite its religious overtones of Christmas and Easter, he said. “I don’t think that makes it a problem. It really is just their own characterization of what they’re doing as a ministry for their church, and then saying we’re putting on a concert. Great: put on a concert. I don’t want someone to come back and say hey, City of Palm Coast, you’ve been supporting one religion over another by endorsing, which is constitutionally prohibited, because you’re spending your money to support religious outreach. I don’t think it is religious outreach that they’re proposing in their projection, but they seem to think that it is.”
He said he would also be uncomfortable with one such organization prefacing or book-ending its events, with the performers in the sanctuary of the church under a big cross, with invitations to the crowd to attend church services. (The Methodist church, in fact, has been known to conduct a prayer before some of the city-supported events.)
Palm Coast Parks and Recreation Director Alex Boyer said the city extended invitations to apply for grants to churches when they started providing cultural programs, with the understanding that the programs focus on the fine arts, not on a religious message. The city holds a workshops for all potential applicants every year before the grant applications are due. “So we can make sure that that is specified when people are filling out” the application that the wording remains within secular bounds, Boyer said.
“So that they know also when they do put on a concert that they don’t say, also come to our church on Sunday or Saturday or whichever religious affiliation they are,” Lyon said.
Here are the organizations receiving grants and the amount of their grant (see the full application packages here):
African-American Cultural Society, $3,000
Afro American Caribbean Heritage Organization, $616
Choral Arts Society, $3,000
City Repertory Theatre, $3,000
Community Chorus of Plam Coast, $3,000
Family Matters of Flagler, $2,400
Flagler Auditorium, $3,000
Flagler County Art League, $2,400
Flagler Performing Arts Academy, $2,400
The Garden Club at Palm Coast, $3,000
Gargiulo Art Foundation, $3,000
Palm Coast Arts Foundation, $3,000
Palm Coast United Methodist Church, $2,640
The Pan Afrakan Dance & Music Historical Education and the Columbian Club of Flagler County also applied but did not receive a grant.
The Palm Coast Arts Foundation’s $3,000 grant will underwrite its second annual association with City Repertory Theatre and John Sbordone, the director who is replicating Shakespeare in the Park for the arts foundation’s grounds in Town Center. Last year CRT produced “Macbeth.” This year it’ll be “The Taming of the Shrew” (“‘Tis a very excellent piece of work,” as Shakespeare himself self-promotes in the play), to be staged Feb. 21-24. The theater troop got its own $3,000 grant to underwrite its five other productions.
The African American Cultural Society is earmarking its $3,000 award for its seven-day December Kwanza program (which “depicts the ‘seven principles’ and the first harvest celebration of Africa during these 7 days”), a Youth Black History Reality Program during Black History Month in February, and a Juneteenth program in June.
Grants also underwrite ongoing concert series and exhibits by the Choral Arts Society, the Community Chorus of Plam Coast, the Flagler Auditorium, the Gargiulo Art Foundation and the Flagler County Art League.
The grant to Family Matters, a newcomer on the list, is unusual, in that it does not support a cultural event so much as aims to organize “cultural arts discovery tours” for seniors, taking them to various events.