Florida’s support for the arts has been in free fall. Four years ago, the state budgeted $32.2 million for nonprofit arts and culture organizations, investing $2.26 in the arts for every Floridian. That placed Florida seventh in the nation for state-backed arts funding. When Gov. Charlie Crist signed this year’s $70 billion budget into law, just $1 million was devoted to arts and culture, or barely 5 cents per Floridian, putting the state at the bottom the national table in cultural funding. Palm Coast is as Tallahassee does: The Palm Coast City Council earlier this week readied to spend a stingy $20,000 on arts and culture next year through grants to 11 local non-profit organizations. Three years ago the city had a $39,000 budget for arts grants.
Arts programs in school are suffering, too, as education budgets shrink and the arts are the traditional punching bag of bean counters. To counter the trend, Lisa McDevitt, the executive director of the Flagler Auditorium for the past seven years, decided to create a special arts fund devoted entirely to grants to school-based arts groups. Her aim: when the high schools’ band budgets are stretched (a single band uniform costs $400), or a small choral group is invited to perform, say, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and is strapped for travel cash, there’ll be grants to help out.
McDevitt isn’t going after government grants. She’s created a five-day “Holiday Extravaganza” featuring local performing arts and fine arts groups in a series of concerts and showings at the Flagler Auditorium from Dec. 9 through Dec. 12. Half the performances are free. Half are modestly priced, at $6, with portions of the proceeds going to the Arts in Education Fund.
“I don’t know why arts is always first to take the hits because if you put arts in the middle, it connects so much—education, health, cultural tourism, economic development. It all stems from arts,” McDevitt says. “We have fabulous arts programs from the Youth Strings to our superior band and chorus and dance teams, our fine arts.”
It all begins Wednesday evening (Dec. 8), at 7 p.m., with the “Gift of Music” concert of the Flagler Youth Orchestra, under the direction of Caren Umbarger. The Youth Orchestra, now in its sixth year, features 300 students in four different orchestras of varying levels, who participate at no cost (except for instrument rentals or purchases, though some 50 students are on instrument scholarships provided by the orchestra’s fund-raising). The program is largely underwritten by the Flagler County school district and by the orchestra’s fund-raising.
The youth orchestra will be followed on Dec. 9 (and again on Dec. 11) by John Seth’s Flagler Palm Coast High School Band and Amy Fulmer’s Chorus groups (from the high school and from Phoenix Academy), a combined collection of some 250 students who’ll perform at the auditorium at 7 p.m. that Thursday evening and again on Saturday at 2 p.m. The following evening, it’s a free concert by the Navy Band South East, one of 13 official Navy bands. The 45-piece ensemble, which somehow manages to perform a few hundred times annually throughout the southeast, covers patriotic standards, Broadway tunes, classical works and rock, among others.
Other performers include the Matanzas High School Jazz Band, Dance Around Flagler presented by five school and professional dance studios (including the FPCV dance department, Fred Astair Dance Studio, 3-n-Motion, Flagler School of Dance, the Rymfire Elementary dance team and the Northeast Florida Dance Academy) and, to top it all off, Simply Barbara & Judy, the cross-dressing duo of Steve Brinberg and Tommy Femia who’ve appeared with Marvin Hamlisch and impersonated the likes of Barbara Streisand and Judy Garland. That show, on Dec. 12 at 7:30 p.m., is priced at $30. The Holiday Extravaganza also dovetails with Palm Coast’s Christmas parade in Town Center at 6 p.m. on Dec. 11. Throughout the week, FPC’s fine arts department will be showcasing its work in the Black Box Theater adjacent to the auditorium.
The Chorus-band performance on Saturday will be a big holiday celebration concert. “You can come to this performance, you can go over into the Bistro and get a spaghetti dinner for $6 a person, and then you can walk over and watch the parade,” McDevitt says of the Palm Coast Christmas parade at 6 p.m.
The fund-raising isn’t all performance based. Businesses and organizations have donated goods and certificates for the “Deck the Halls and Deck the Walls” program: Donated or sponsored Christmas trees, already decorated and ready to go, are selling for $40 to $600, with the median price at $80 to $100. Donated wreaths are selling for $40 to $75. The Future Chefs donated a wreath decorated with all sorts of culinary art related items. The Flagler County Youth Center donated a wreath that is itself wreathed in gift cards to local restaurants. There’ll also be a silent auction, with such things as an original watercolor of the oldest house in St. Augustine, a sailor teddy bear, a night’s stay in a St. Augustine inn, a $50 gift certificate to Thai-by-Thai, the fabulous Thai restaurant in Palm Harbor Shopping Center, a scenic cruise and a complementary round of golf at the Palm Harbor Golf Club part of the items to be auctioned off.
And the Auditorium will also be a drop-off point for canned food to help restock local food pantries (the auditorium is asking patrons o bring a can each), for the Giving Store, which provides gifts for children up to fifth grade, and for the county’s “Stuff the Bus,” which supplies children with necessities from sneakers to school supplies. The arts frame the whole thing.
“It was my whole little brainstorm,” McDevitt said of the extravaganza. “I just believe in collaboration. I just see the need for it. I deal with each one of these groups one on one. I know the obstacles and the struggles they go through. When they need help they come to me a lot. Trying to do 130 events a year, and when somebody is in a panic or they need some help, I just wanted to start a pot specifically for this, and I thought that this would be a good way to do it in one chop.”
Not long ago McDevitt attended a conference in Jacksonville on the state of the arts in Florida and how to go about preserving what place they do have in their own communities. The Holiday Extravaganza fits in that plan. Public awareness has a lot to do with it. “One thing we need to do,” McDevitt says, “is all the venues, all the art agencies in the state of Florida need to be on the same page to send the message to our elected officials, and it needs to start with the people. The people have to send the message.”
For more details, see the Flagler Auditorium’s extravaganza page with precise dates and times for each show or call the box office at 386/ 437-7547