By JJ Graham
Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts, in a recent article in the News Tribune, expressed the desire to see Palm Coast move forward with art and culture, seeing its importance, and acknowledging the recent blossoming interest that art is bringing to our young city. Other city officials are beginning to take notice as well. How could they miss it? It’s happening right under their noses. With the recent relocation of the Flagler County Art League to City Market Place (formerly City Walk), Palm Coast is starting to make its own cultural renaissance. The Garguilo Art Foundation, the art league and my own Hollingsworth Gallery are beginning to see the importance of cooperation if we are to succeed as an arts community in this present fragile economic environment.
But what is culture? Why an art community? Skeptics will ask.
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Palm Coast has failed thus far to realize the importance of color. Color has a psychological impact, an ability to stimulate the mood, and promote activity. This is not an attack on the city, which I have grown to love. It is an observation by a fairly young eye that does not want to criticize, but, invite a new approach and embrace a slightly more modern aesthetic. It is important to realize that Palm Coast will never have the tradition of older cities, such as St. Augustine. I find it captivating that this newborn child city is but a stone’s throw from the oldest city in the states. This deprivation of traditional history does not have to be viewed as a weakness; it should in fact be its strongest selling point.
If the heart of a city is its business, and commerce is the capillaries that supply the organ, then culture is its soul. While business and commerce are fueled by the exchange of currency, culture can only grow in atmospheres where citizens begin to appreciate and embrace it. Art communities are important because they nurture creativity, incite new ideas, and inspire vision. Having an arts community within a city is kind of like having a fountain shooting up out of a pond. It’s fun to look at and it keeps the pond water from growing stagnant.
Recently, I had a conversation with a friend from New York, who stated that investors paid close attention to the rundown neighborhoods within the city. If they noticed that artists began to migrate to these neighborhoods, they would follow them with investments in real estate.
Soon, culture would grow, property would increase in value, sales would be made, and rents would be raised, thus forcing the artists to migrate to another low rent area. The whole fleecing cycle would start again. As the pattern continues, soon the artists have nowhere left to go. They eventually leave, relocating to cities with lower costs of living, taking the culture with them.
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Slowly, over time, much like we see in the fates of men, cities learn to see the consequences of greed and how it can often leave them soulless. Some cities such as Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Miami, to name a few, are starting to see the light. They’re beginning to nurture their artisans rather than exploit them. They’re reigniting their cultural potential and thriving as a result. As a new city there is much we can learn from these patterns. As we attempt to give birth to culture we should also recognize the importance of maintaining it.
The question is this: how can we know what legacy to leave this city if we are disconnected from its youth? Take my friend Mike Toth for example. At 23, he works a full time job, trying to pay for his first two years of college so he is allowed to return and finish his education. Mike is one of the most informed young individuals I know. I am a bit embarrassed at times when he shoots over my head, and I have to stop him for an explanation. I am humble enough to listen. This young man is searching from all sides. What would he like to see in Palm Coast’s future? Should we ask ‘em, or should we just stick’em in the young whippersnapper folder and revel in the fact that we can make better decisions about his future. My point is this: Young people are more privy to information today than we were at their age. They are also really concerned about the world we’re leaving them. Shouldn’t their opinions matter? Can culture play an important role in bridging the gap between generations?
Recently, in a FlaglerLive article, a commentator attacked Hollingsworth Gallery stating that “this gallery would be closed in a week in a larger municipality.” He’s probably right. By the same token an uppity New York-style gallery wouldn’t last a week here in Palm Coast. Hollingsworth Gallery is organic and evolving, it’s designed to grow with the city. The spirit of art cannot be cultivated from the top. It doesn’t have a top. If it did, it would be called the capital spirit. True artists and art lovers should never deprive themselves of the camaraderie that comes with building a future together, or even just hanging out together at openings.
Let us remember that we have the rare opportunity to create a new and original culture, together, in a city that is like a child compared to other cities. I have a 3-year old son, his mother and I have the pleasure of enjoying his presence as a child, and we look forward to each stage of his development. We have not decided what he is going to be when he is 30.
I’m often asked why I—a fairly young person devoting myself to making art—chose to root myself in a community that is often criticized for being devoid of culture, of being overly conservative, and of being often indifferent to young people. My answer is this: I find within this community the rare opportunity to participate in a culture that is infant and will ultimately grow into what we choose to make it. Here, many can engage in the actual creation of molding and shaping this culture from its very beginning stages. Not only do I find it an exciting challenge. I believe it is a rare opportunity.
So why not invite color in? Why not promote this city as “a colorful new city”? Why not invite the older generation to adopt the rapidly growing population of young people here and nurture their natural creativity, to lead by serving, to become contemporary and new instead of regurgitating the trends of past cities?
There’s more to a city than commerce. There’s more to “economic development” than paychecks and tax bases. Without culture, without art, without the youthful force that makes both possible, Palm Coast would be—has been—a city without soul. Let’s be courageous and original and all-encompassing in our appreciation of the diverse ethnicities that have come to reside here, including ethnicities that have nothing to do with skin color or national background: art’s ethnicities is one form of wealth and diversity we have yet to tap into, with nothing to lose and so much to gain.
JJ Graham is the owner of Hollingsworth Gallery in Palm Coast.
The Gargiulo Arts Foundation is hosting a panel discussion and audience feedback on art, artists and culture in Palm Coast at 6 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Hollingsworth Gallery. There is a $3 recommended contribution. The event is free to Gargiulo foundation members and members of the Southeast Contemporary Artists Coalition. RSVP at 386/446-0617.