Why the Arts Thrive in Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches
Ask Frank Gromling, owner of the Ocean Art Gallery, what makes Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches art scene exceptional, and the first thing he mentions is the area’s natural beauty.
It’s true. The beaches here are some of the best preserved in the state, and the miles of meandering saltwater creeks, wildlife estuaries and nature trails add to the beaches pristine beauty.
“It is so gorgeous,” Gromling said. “There is a laid-back, easygoing lifestyle here that draws people to what we call ‘the quiet side of Florida’.”
But “quiet” doesn’t mean the community lacks in excitement and culture. The area’s natural beauty and breezy vibe have attracted the attention of artists and art aficionados from around the world. Many artists have chosen to set up shop among the palm trees and pine forests. You’ll find potters and painters, craft makers, and jewelry designers, who all call this beautiful beach community home. In addition to the vibrant arts scene, the performing arts scene is also strong.
“There’s a tremendous amount of talent here,” said Gromling.
The mix of inspiring natural backdrops and diverse talent has created a buzzing scene that makes Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches a must-visit for anyone who appreciates the arts. Ready to explore? Here are some of the area’s top galleries, shops and venues to visit.
Located steps from the Atlantic Ocean, it’s no surprise the area’s gorgeous seascapes are the predominant theme at Gromling’s gallery. You’ll find a wide variety of work, from watercolor paintings of local birds and exquisite sunset photography to impressionistic underwater pastels. The gallery also features nature-themed jewelry, sculptures and hand-blown glass. The majority of art on display at the gallery is created by artists who live in the area, making the gallery a great place to buy and support art from local artists, and take home a piece of the area’s renowned beauty. Ocean Art Gallery also hosts painting and photography workshops for visitors and residents interested in expanding their skills.
One of Florida's leading wildlife painters, artist Art LaMay, along with his wife, Bonnie, run this intimate studio gallery near the Matanzas River. The gallery, which has been in business for almost 50 years, is considered a Palm Coast institution, said Gromling. Art LaMay Studios isn’t only a place to enjoy LaMay’s watercolors, prints and giclees. Lucky visitors can also see the artist in action. LaMay frequently works in the shop.
Nature is also on full display at the Baliker Gallery. Self-taught sculptor Paul Baliker uses found objects to create large installations that reflect the delicate balance between mankind and nature. Expressive faces gaze out from a gnarly piece of driftwood. A child appears to be birthed from a branch. Fish leap from a twisted trunk. Using his palette of cedar, driftwood and bronze, Baliker also creates tables, benches and bars. While browsing, you’ll also find other artists’ work on display including paintings and stained glass.
One of the newest players in the local arts scene, City Repertory Theatre was founded with the goal of exposing patrons to new ideas and artists through professional-quality performances. The diversity can be seen in the more than 40 programs and plays staged during the theatre’s short existence, including musicals like “Godspell” and “Avenue Q,” thought provoking social commentaries like “Laramie Project” and “Twilight Los Angeles 1992,” and the lighthearted “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll”. The theatre also has a six-week young adult acting camp that culminates in a public performance touching on real teen issues like eating disorders and bullying.
The Flagler Playhouse has evolved into what Gromling calls “an integral component to the local arts scene” after having an unconventional start nearly 40 years ago.
Gone are the days when the actors had to rehearse in living rooms and garages. Today, the playhouse operates from a former church that has transformed into a top-notch practice and performance space. Throughout the year, Flagler Playhouse puts on a half dozen performances, ranging from classics like “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” to comedies like “I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change” and actor Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.”
Since its 1991 opening, Flagler Auditorium has served as the area's premiere performing arts venue, hosting everyone from nationally touring Broadway shows and inspiring cultural programs to family theater. And the musical performances include an eclectic mix of talent. Big bands, symphonies and world-renowned singers have all performed at the 1,000-seat auditorium. Each season features a host of diverse performers like the State Ballet Theater of Russia and Red Hot Chilli Pipers, a troupe of rocking bagpipers.
Established in 2004, Palm Coast Arts Foundation mission is to make Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches one of the country’s top performing arts destinations. All the hard work recently culminated in the construction of a brand new outdoor stage in Town Center, the perfect venue for the foundation's annual Picnic and Pops concert. Throughout the year, the brand new stage will host theater performances, live music and comedians, as well as community festivals and events.
Founded in 1978, The Flagler County Art League has a membership of over 400 art lovers, supporters and artists at all levels. Situated in a storefront gallery and studio, they offer daily classes and workshops given by well-known artists from around the country and monthly shows and exhibits with free openings every second Saturday. Stop by their gift shop where you'll discover beautiful hand crafted items like hand blown glass, jewelry, pottery and much more.
You’re bound to be hungry after a day of gallery and venue hopping. Enjoy fresh Italian and Greek food, as well as fantastic views of the sea, at Oceanside Beach Bar & Grill. This is a great spot to dine, and art lovers will appreciate all the local photography on display. The restaurant also has family history tied to it. For almost 20 years the Lulgjuraj family, who owned and operated the restaurant, called it Manny’s Pizza. The Lulgjuraj’s sold the restaurant in 2006. Four years later their sons, Tony and Johnny, bought back the family business and renovated it for a new look and name. Today, Oceanside Grill still serves original favorites like pizza and its famous Greek spaghetti, as well as new favorites such as the flaming sausage and chicken Johnny.