The champagne was popping. That’s no metaphor. Nor does it need to be: The Palm Coast Arts Foundation now has an actual, handsome and very large piece of prime real estate it can plant its flag on, now that it has a five-year lease with Palm Coast. It took the foundation six years to secure the lease, a $1-a-year deal in exchange for 13 acres southwest of Town Center Boulevard and Central Avenue. And a sculpture garden.
Five years from now, the foundation hopes to break ground on a $5 to $7 million “event center,” the first phase of a much larger project that would culminate, many years later, in the construction of a 2,300-seat, $30 million performing arts center. The events center would be a money-making step through weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, medical conventions, small trade shows and art shows. It’ll have three rooms, two of which can be turned into assembly or banquet rooms, with a full-service kitchen designed for servicing the bigger building once it’s built.
The foundation this week launched a five-year fund-raising campaign, and on Tuesday afternoon, several of its members, including President Sam Perkovich, Past President Joe Ganci and development chairwoman Nancy Crouch were at the site, admiring their new sign there and speaking of the future in terms fit for a Mouret soundtrack, plastic cups of champagne in hand.
“We’re going to get the arts moving and shaking here,” Perkovich said.
There, too, was Georgia Turner, Flagler County’s tourism director, signaling the importance not just of the foundation’s plans but of any plans that would broaden the arts base (paralleling the tax base) of the county. “I just think the arts are a huge part of our tourism mix here in Flagler County,” Turner said, noting the inclusion of the arts in the Tourist Development Council’s long-term strategic plan.
But the success of the plan hinges on making the arts viable as an economic of growth locally, which they are only anemically, and of developing an arts community that works cooperatively. Which, for the moment, it does not: arts organizations see each other more as rivals and competitors than as partners. There’s little love between, say, the Flagler County Art League and Hollingsworth Gallery, between the City Repertory Theatre and the Flagler Playhouse, or between the Flagler Auditorium and the Palm Coast Arts Foundation. The auditorium, which has its own 1,000-seat venue, sees the arts foundation’s plans suspiciously.
And the foundation’s own past has been checkered. In 2006 the foundation was very close to where it was this week, eying a lease with the city. But the lase had a condition: the foundation had to raise $1.5 million in a year or lose the agreement. The fund-raising had never been that strong at the foundation. The agreement foundered. Fundraising is still a huge challenge. Between 2007 and 2011, according to its IRS filings, the foundation raised a total of $412,000, an average of $82,000 a year, with $35,000 of that going to its signature, annual Picnics and Pops concert featuring the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. The foundation ended 2011 with just under $50,000 in cash.
But its members are convinced that the wealth is in Flagler County to make its fundraising efforts pay. The foundation rests its hopes on a feasibility study it says shows the wealth to be here, and on future growth in the county. But the presence of wealth doesn’t necessarily translate into patrons’ willingness to support arts organizations. The foundation is aware of the challenge, and sees it as just that.
“I think when they see us get going with the special events center, I think they will,” Perkovich said, referring to people’s willingness to support the center. “It’s the missing link to all of Flagler County. We have all of these beautiful bike paths, we have this beautiful land, we have the ocean and we have everything else. Most people here are from somewhere else, they’re used to bigger cities, whether it’s from the Northeast, the Midwest or the South, and they’re used to going to plays they’re used to going to the theater, they’re used to going to rock and roll music, they’re used to having the whole gamut of it. They’re used to being able to run downtown and see art shows. That sort of thing. We don’t have that. It’s the one thing that’s missing.”
Existing local organizations would dispute that very strongly: this week alone featured a production of “Titanic,” the musical, at the Flagler Auditorium, the launch of a four-day engagement of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” at the City Repertory Theatre, in a venue soaked in art and the celebration, this month, of Artist of the Year Richard Schreiner, at Hollingsworth Gallery, a few doors down from the Flagler County Art League’s own traditional fall show. The Flagler Playhouse is in the thick of another busy season that will culminate with “The Producers” in spring. Flagler Beach has its own galleries and music scenes, calibrated though it is to bars and coffee houses. Throughout, the quality is uneven. The offerings are not.
Nevertheless, the arts foundation sees its role as raising the magnitude of the possible locally.
“The auditorium does a wonderful job for what they are,” Perkovich said. “They’re part of the school system. They’ll never support a Broadway show or something like that. Their people are really talented, they bring in super talent, but one day we’re going to grow to the point that that’s not going to suffice.”
What, then, of “Titanic,” a Broadway show trailing its five Tony awards?
“There are Broadway shows and there are Broadway shows,” Ganci, the past president, says. “You can’t do ‘Cats,’ you can’t do a high-level opera, or some of the other large shows. Our theater will have 2,300 seats in the theater and it has multiple configurations, so eventually in order to service this community for the arts, you’re going to need a facility that is far different from what the auditorium is today.”
“You won’t be able to do grandiose symphonic presentations. Can’t do it over there,” Jim Harterm a foundation member and an architect, said. But grandiose symphonic productions are on the wane: even the future of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, which the foundation hopes will consider Palm Coast its second home, is in doubt, as is the whole notion of symphonic music outside of the largest cities. By choosing the grand scale approach, in other words, the Palm Coast Arts Foundation is swimming against a very strong current. It’s doing so in a town that so far, despite what latent wealth may have been found by feasibility studies, manages to support only small-scale arts organizations while.
The city itself, meanwhile, has always been very stingy toward the arts while favoring more popular entertainments, and profiting from them. (The arts foundation applied for a $3,000 grant from Palm Coast for its Picnics and Pops concert. It got $1,875.)
None of that appears to be an obstacle to the foundation.
“We’re not just about symphony and ballet,” Perkovich said. “The generation that’s coming into play here, the generation that has the money now and donates is the baby boomer generation, and they’re Wagner to Woodstock, or sand castles to symphony. They want to see everything. Yep, the wife can drag those guys to one ballet, but the next night they want to see Pink Floyd or something, and that’s what we’re about. We’re about the whole gamut.”
The city can revoke the lease on three days’ notice “if the City Council decides it is in the public interest to terminate,” in the words of the lease the council approved on Nov. 6. The lease also includes some conditions, including a prohibition on “noxious odors or annoying noises,” which should thankfully rule out Wagner, 12-tone music and Kenny G.