Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, Bunnell and surrounding Flagler together have a population that now exceeds 110,000. Yet there is not a single art museum between them, though many smaller communities–among them DeLand, Ormond Beach, St. Augustine, Winter Park–all have one or more museums devoted exclusively to the visual arts.
The dearth of exhibit space is having serious consequences for artists.
Stained glass artist Lee Richards will not be honored with an exhibition to celebrate his recognition as the Gargiulo Art Foundation’s 2019 Flagler County Artist of the Year. That’s a first in the 20-year history of the GAF.
Don’t think that the foundation is shunning Richards because it believes his art is subpar. Neither is the foundation dismissing Richards’ efforts as a master-degreed architect and doctorate-degreed engineer whose work – with both design and sleeves-rolled-up tool wielding – helped the Flagler County Art League move to its larger venue in November 2018.
Rather, the Gargiulo foundation simply has no space to host even an exhibition of that importance.
Richards’ Artist of the Year show and its accompanying, celebratory opening reception had been scheduled for early 2020 at the Berkshire Hathaway realty office in European Village, an artfully designed two-story venue that had regularly hosted exhibits by area artists and drawn on ample walk-in traffic from patrons digesting whatever gastronomy, craft beers, crepes or cigars they may have sampled in the village. But the abrupt, unexplained closing of Berkshire Hathaway in November forced the cancellation of Richards’ show and another exhibit by area artists set to open that month.
That closing plus the forced 2017 move of Salvo Art from its sizable, exhibition-friendly home at Nature Scapes in Bunnell to a smaller venue with limited gallery space down the road, and the busy schedule at the Flagler County Art League, have combined to create a crisis in arts space for the county.
“This is the first year that we, so far, are not having a show for the Artist of the Year,” says Tom Gargiulo, CEO and president of the GAF, and who runs the foundation with his life partner Arlene Volpe. “And this is our 20th Artist of the Year. The reason is that we’ve grown so much in the arts. We don’t have the facilities that are keeping up with it.”
By “we,” Gargiulo does not mean just the foundation, but rather the entire, robust Flagler County art scene.
The critical lack of exhibit space is on the radar of the art league and its new president, Francie Shepherd; the fledgling Palm Coast Arts Foundation with its long-range plans for a gallery; and the Grand Gallery at Grand Living Realty, which recently took on artist Jan Jackson as its curator.
Though the art league moved “down the street” in November 2018 from its home in Palm Coast’s City Marketplace to a new, somewhat larger space in the same commercial complex, its available space and slots on its exhibition schedule remain strained.
“We have a lot going on and we continue to develop programs,” says Shepherd, who was elected league president in September. “The space itself is limited so we only have so much to work with. Half is devoted to gallery space and half to classrooms, and neither is large enough to really meet where we want to go. That’s a good problem to have.
“And we’ve always had a fairly consistent gallery show schedule, which is planned a year in advance – we have gallery shows planned through December 2020, and we’ll start planning for 2021 in the next month or so. So that limits what we can do in supporting community efforts like the foundation.”
The art league also rents space for meetings of local photography clubs, a colored pencils society, an orchid society and other local community groups, Shepherd added, “so it’s getting pretty tight as far as time available. And we are developing community outreach programs: We have children’s programs now, after-school programs. We’re trying to work out a deal with the high schools. That’s all great stuff and we’re going to continue to promote that.”
Grand Gallery was part of the vision of Grand Living Reality when owner and managing broker Lindsay Dolamore and then-partner Jim Cullis built their new office building at 2298 Colbert Lane in Palm Coast in 2016.
“As we went through the design aspects of putting together the building, we came up with the idea that it would be nice to have gallery space,” Dolamore says. “A real estate office typically has a bullpen area, and I said, ‘Let’s take that bullpen area and create a Starbucks-style environment’ — a 1000-square-foot environment for entertainment, for groups and organizations to come and meet, and to display nice artwork.”
J.J. Graham, an area artist who owns and operates Salvo Art House, first partnered with Grand Gallery to fill its walls with art, then it was Frank Gromling of Ocean Art Gallery (previously in Flagler Beach, now in Ormond Beach). Grand Gallery was reinvigorated last summer when artist Jan Jackson became its curator. In July she opened her first exhibition, featuring works by the late M.L. Forsythe, a former Rockette.
“Elements III, Part 2,” the current show at Grand Living, includes works by Alice Gipson, Dennis Mialki, Leanne Mialki, L.C. and Tommy Tobey, Susann Carrington, Patty Swenson and Carol L. Bader, and runs through Feb. 6. “Abstracts and Assemblages,” an exhibit of works by Brian Hammond, runs Feb. 9-March 21, with its opening reception from 1-3:30 p.m. Sunday Feb. 9.
“Artists are waiting in line” to exhibit at Grand Gallery, says Jackson, who owned and operated her own gallery in Albuquerque, N.M., before she and her husband moved to Florida in 2013. “There isn’t enough art exhibit space in this area. It’s very limited and it’s too bad Berkshire Hathaway couldn’t continue.”
Jackson sees Grand Gallery as a way to circumvent the usual economics of the art business.
“The reason I was interested in the space was because artists could keep their prices reasonable,” says Jackson, who is not paid any fee or salary for curating there, although she does receive a 20 percent commission on any sales.
“Artists don’t have to pay for the space,” she says. “Being the curator, I’m charging a very small commission – 20 percent. I do a lot of work for that 20 percent, I tell you. It’s more time-consuming than I thought, but I enjoy it.
“We have hundreds of artists who have retired to Florida in this area, and they are great. Why go to a gallery and pay 50 to 60 percent (commission)? I know as a gallery owner, and I kept my prices really reasonable, that artists are making very little on their work.”
The dearth of exhibit spaces in the area “forces artists to join groups in order to show their work, because somebody in that group will be in charge of finding venues. So consequently, we belong to multiple groups and show whenever we can and maybe sell, maybe not. We join co-op galleries.”
Though some observers may think a real estate office and an art gallery are strange bedfellows, Jackson notes that “another advantage of this place is that it is used by more than 100 realtors. They don’t have offices here, but they work through this office as a broker. These meeting rooms are used all the time. This room (the conference room in the back) is used all the time to have parties. So, there are always people other than realtors who are looking at the art.”
The Palm Coast Arts Foundation currently is in Phase II of a long-range, four-phase plan to create a center for the arts. The site at 1500 Central Avenue in Palm Coast’s Town Center currently has an outdoor, unroofed, concrete, 32,000-square-foot pavilion where concerts by the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra and Shakespeare in the Park productions co-produced by the arts foundation and John Sbordone’s City Repertory Theatre are staged. The arts foundation’s website says “art galleries” will be included in Phase IV.
But Gargiulo is frustrated by what he sees as a lack of active support from PCAF in the short term.
“From the beginning, and this is just me talking, PCAF was always trying to get the support of FCAL and all the other organizations to support them,” Gargiulo says. “But they really haven’t done anything to support the visual artists. They do support the Flagler County Youth Orchestra, their programs. They support John Sbordone with his Shakespeare in the Park with their outdoor tent.
“But the visual arts are being pushed back. It’s not like what PCAF could do for us, it’s what we could do for PCAF. There shouldn’t be any distinction. We are all artists, we are all in it together. We need to support each other and work together and the whole community is going to benefit. PCAF wants to put art in their lobby. Well, that’s going to benefit them more than it’s going to benefit the visual arts.”
PCAF executive director Nancy Crouch says the arts center “has been evolving, and there’s a whole new design concept than what you see on our website. We haven’t been able to share that yet publicly, but there will be exhibition space in the new building. That’s always been the plan anyway. That will not fall through. That will remain.
“It will be an open-floor space, an open first floor right off the street with lounge/exhibition space. It will be something that this town does not have.”
Crouch says she would like the arts center to host “both local artists and touring shows . . . but we haven’t gotten that far as far as specifically planning that.”
As for the short term, “There’s a terrible lack of exhibition space in our county,” Crouch says. She notes that Tom Anastasio and Paul Beaulieu, artists and curators of the Berkshire Hathaway space, met with her to brainstorm possibilities after that venue went defunct, but no concrete, immediate solutions surfaced.
“I would love to find pop-up exhibition space and have pop-up galleries,” Crouch says. PCAF “has been trying to toy with some ideas about alternative locations. I’ve even met with the tourism office to try to find out if there are any places we should consider.”
Crouch hopes that awareness of the arts space issue might “jump-start some ideas among business community leaders . . . the idea that they could be a rotating exhibition space, bringing people through their place of business, making them aware that they are here. More businesses should open up to such an idea if their business, of course, is conducive to such a show.”
The wandering-minstrel history of the Gargiulo Art Foundation’s Artist of the Year exhibits is indicative of the caprice and obstacles at play.
“We used to do it (Artist of the Year shows) at Daytona State College (the Palm Coast campus) when it was a community college, but the exhibits were up there only for a long weekend,” Gargiulo says. “Then we had our own art gallery in Flagler Beach, and the landlord raised our rent. Then we moved to Bunnell, and the landlord raised our rent. Then we used J.J.’s gallery. We did it at FCAL and we were scheduled at Berkshire Hathaway and that show had to be canceled.”
“My own personal feeling is we shouldn’t wait,” he says “When I say ‘we,’ the visual artists, FCAL — we shouldn’t wait for the city, the county to build us an art center. We can do it ourselves. But everybody’s afraid, because they wonder ‘What if it doesn’t work?’
“If FCAL, the photography clubs and we all got together and started our own place – it could be done. Our newsletter mentions Dorothy Johnson. She was an old friend of ours. She started the DeLand Museum of Art by passing the hat around with a bunch of women friends, and it turns out being the DeLand Museum of Art. Why? Because they were calling attention to it and people saw a need for it and they supported Dorothy Johnson’s efforts.
“If FCAL and our foundation and other people got together, we could call attention to the need for an art center, not only for performing artists but also for visual artists.”
Despite the scuttling of the GAF Artist of the Year show, and despite the apparent lack of immediate solutions to the dearth of exhibit space in Flagler County, Gargiulo remains optimistic.
“It just points out how we’ve grown in the arts, and we don’t have the facilities that are keeping up with it,” he says. “This is all part of growth. I really don’t see it as a negative thing. As somebody notes, one door closes, another one opens. J.J. has proven that over and over again. He’s had so many doors closed on him and he just opens another one and moves forward. That’s what we do. Nothing’s going to hold us back. It’s not the end of the world or anything (laughs). You just keep moving.”