The Flagler County Cultural Council has big ambitions–among them, to be known as the county’s designated arts agency, as the driver, supporter, coordinator and promoter of local arts, culture and history, and as a magnet for state and national grants that will help local cultural agencies thrive while incubating new ones.
The organization was all giddiness and promise as it held its annual meeting at the county’s tourism office before a little under two dozen people at the airport on Friday. “We’re going to be here to do whatever we can to promote everybody in the community that wants to be a part of us,” Pam Richardson, one of the board members, said.
But after three years, the cultural council remains cash-poor, mostly in the organizational stage, and in need of members, money and volunteers. The organization faces headwinds.
FC3, as it likes to be known, by its own admission is not yet anywhere near a well-defined household name. More arts organizations have died in the past 18 months than risen in the county (FC3’s directory of local arts and entertainment venues lists just 10, at least one of them defunct). FC3 is still more in the mode of developing its own organization and aims than implementing them, with barely any money to its credit (it has $28,289 on hand, $25,000 of it from a recent infusion through the county’s tourism budget). And there’s a bit of skepticism in the air, as Nancy Crouch, who chairs the organization’s board, heard from a member.
Kathy Reichard-Ellavsky and her husband became big supporters of the Palm Coast Arts Foundation when they moved here in 2017. The Foundation had been around for a decade and a half with big promises of its own to expand on its covered stage in Town Center. But tropical storms and Covid blew those plans apart, and the Foundation ceased operations this month. Its mixed-use surroundings in Town Center–shops and restaurants at street level, apartments above–never materialized. They gave way to apartments without shops and a few more expanses of single-family homes.
“I’d like to know, how do we overcome that disillusionment and make something more workable out of that facility?” Reichard-Ellavsky said.
“The mission of this organization is not to build buildings,” Amy Lukasik, the county’s tourism director, said of FC3. “It’s to help all entities, organizations. So although this group, this organization, may support the group that has that as their mission–and I believe United We Art, that is one of their priorities–this group’s role would be to support United We Art and however that could look.”
The plans to put a roof on the former Foundation stage aren’t dead, particularly since the city is now in charge of that venue as part of its parks and recreations amenities.
Not to confuse matters: United We Art is a Palm Coast-government-led advisory group focused on developing the city’s arts district in Town Center, established in 2020. United We Art is its own ambitious plan that had seen the Foundation’s venue as an anchor and that imagined a dedicated funding source from the city to help seed the district’s activities. That dedicated funding has yet to appear, leaving United We Art in a similar, mostly organizational position as FC3.
“Give us a little time to get situated,” United We Art’s Lisa Love said, “and we will be communicating when you can expect to see the what, the when and the how. We know the where.”
Last February the city seemed to embrace a plan to build a colossal, culture-focused facility in Town Center, but its price tag ($73 million, which would have had to be raised rather than funded by the city) left council members cold, and the idea has been like a Pirandello character in search of a stage since.
Reichard-Ellavsky found Love’s projection helpful. “What I hope that we’ll all see throughout this process is more transparency. Because I don’t need to see any more pictures,” she said, referring to a long-standing rendering of the Foundation’s future along Town Center Boulevard. “So let’s hope that this time what’s proposed, there’s actually a plan to follow through.”
Crouch focused on what FC3 has done in its three years. Among other accomplishments, it got its non-profit status a little over a year ago, it took part in a survey on the arts as an economic driver, it contracted with a vendor to develop its website, which it launched on Friday (though the page listing the organization’s board members disappeared soon after that), it held a fundraiser with City Repertory Theatre, and a year ago got the County Commission to designate the council, by resolution, as the local arts agency. “That’s very important when it comes to attracting outside monies to our county,” Crouch said. (See the resolution here.)
The designation goes further, making FC3 responsible for encouraging and facilitating “opportunities for Flagler County residents and visitors to participate in arts and cultural programs and activities” and “serve the citizens of Flagler County in the realm of arts, history, and culture,” among other expectations.
The resolution also included direction to “expand and support cultural tourism development in Flagler County,” a directive that, with some disenchantment among past members who prefer a more organically Flagler-centered focus, currently has the upper hand. The county’s tourism bureau provides what administrative support the council has by way of Deborah Naughton, the bureau’s destination development and community engagement manager.
As the county’s resolution put it, “FC3 will partner with other entities and organizations within Flagler County to assist local arts, culture and history organizations by helping to obtain financial assistance through local, state and federal grants and providing
professional and technical support to help develop, market and promote their activities.”
On Oct. 13 the council launched a community survey, open until Nov. 2, to get Flagler County residents’ “help to define the future of arts, culture and history in Flagler County.” The Orwellian slip about defining history aside (what the council means, since history is not in the future, is perhaps finding out how and to what extent residents seek historical attractions and history-related events or activities), the survey will direct a lot of the council’s attention as it sets its goals and frames its grant-hunting, once it has a grant writer.
“I can’t stress enough how important this is because this is what’s going to drive what we do,” Crouch said. “So if you have ideas on what you think we should be doing as a cultural arts council, fill that out.”
Organization aside, FC3 has a few cultural initiatives to its credit. It’s in partnership with Palm Coast government behind the Palm Coast Arts Festival in Central Park on Nov. 12, a modest, four-hour event that will mark its second year, though as recently as last week the council was still soliciting vendors and artists. The council landed an $1,100 grant from the city to help underwrite what it hopes will be a music series of yet-undetermined genres or date (the city is not usually that permissive with its grants, requiring a lot more precision).
And with the sunset of the 20-year-old Palm Coast Arts Foundation, where Crouch was the executive director, that organizations’ Turtle Trail, the series of ceramic sculptures painted by local artists and situated at numerous points of interest around the county, has shifted under the umbrella of the council. The trail will continue to grow, with a new turtle, Renny, the 21st, scheduled for an unveiling on Nov. 2 at Intracoastal Bank on Palm Coast Parkway. The bank is marking its 15th anniversary. Renny will be the work of artists Lisa Fisher and Nancy Zedar.
Meanwhile, the organization is in brainstorming mode, thinking up signature events, a scholarship program (it just provided a $1,000 prize pot for a high school arts competition at the Creekside Festival), a Flagler film commission, perhaps even a book fair. But for all that, the council will need helping hands, money and volunteers, of which it has a dearth right now.
“We’re just starting. And it has been a process. It’s been a 10-year, longer, process,” Elaine Studnicki who’s in charge of FC3’smembership, told the assembled in an unwitting mixture of revelatory contradictions. “So what we’re asking you today, and if you join you already believe this, is that we’re here to stay. This is going to work. You’ve got the big folks in the room. You’ve got the other folks waiting to join us, so we can help them. There are organizations that don’t even know we exist yet, but they will. We are not here to do big, big, big things all the time. We’re here to help every single person in this county who has an arts, culture and history need. And that’s really important.” (In the room were County Commissioner Dave Sullivan and Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin.)
Studnicki then reached for her inner Ted Lasso: “So I’m asking you to do one thing, to believe. Just believe that this can happen in Flagler County, and it will. It will. So give me all your money right now.” That last quip she added to big laughter in the room, but if FC3 is to make it, it cannot be a joke.