A Case For Grace

I’ve been thinking about grace lately.

Grace: What a beautiful word.

Sadly, there’s far too little grace in this world. We’d sure be better off if there were more.

We named our golden retriever Gracie because we thought the name was cute. But the name also felt right. Maybe subconsciously we were looking to add a little grace to our lives.

Last week, the Downtown Development Authority held a grand re-opening of the Cornell Museum at Old School Square.

Readers of this blog know how I and some 11,000 others who signed a petition feel about the City Commission’s decision to terminate the lease of the non-profit that created Old School Square and loved the place for 32 years.

The decision and how it was done was the opposite of gracious. It’s been ugly, expensive, and hurtful, in more ways than we can calculate.

The DDA is stepping into the mess created by this town’s toxic politics and while I do not believe government should be running our cultural arts center, we need to be gracious and wish them well.

Personally, I hope they hit it out of the park and then I hope they find a way to create a community organization that will love and give that special place their hearts for years to come. A community non-profit working alongside city government is the secret sauce.

In other words, I hope they can replicate what we’ve lost, which in a word was love.  Love for a place. Love for community.

And so, I think those of us who care about Old School Square should make a statement to that affect. If you love something, you need to root for it to be healthy and successful.

Right now, Old School Square’s campus is not healthy.

The campus seems sad.

The theater will miss yet another season and the classrooms are empty.

Those who love the historic buildings worry about the state of those buildings. Old structures need to be nurtured.  We worry that the buildings are not being tended to. Let’s hope we’re wrong.

But despite what we think of the decision to terminate— by my estimate the worst made by a commission in my 36 years living here—we need to root for the project gifted to us by the efforts of Frances Bourque all those years ago.

We need to cling to the idea of a community gathering place. We need to root for those buildings, that theater, those classrooms, and that museum to come to life and get its soul back.

That doesn’t mean those of us who love Old School Square should give up our fight.

The best way to stand up to a bully is to do what’s right, and in this case, litigating is the only option because our elected “leaders” refuse to meet and talk like we have always done in this town.

Let’s pause for a moment and talk about the lawsuit. OSS Board members have been called “unpatriotic” for suing their own city. As if you should just allow an injustice to happen, pack your bags, thank your bully for allowing you to serve and leave with your tail between your legs as if you are a pledge in the movie “Animal House” being paddled and replying: “thank you sir, may I have another.”

No, thanks.

Capitulating is not patriotism and that’s not loving your city as the board of Old School Square, its patrons, supporters, donors, former employees, and volunteers most surely do. If you love something, you fight for it.

There is no financial upside to this lawsuit for OSS not to mention the stress that accompanies litigation. But there is value in fighting for a cause, even if you lose.

There’s value to standing up against political forces who cut out the public and decide to kill something without a conversation with the community they are supposed to be serving.

But make no mistake about it, lawsuits are terrible.

Lawsuits indicate failure.

Failure to talk.

Failure to compromise.

Failure to use reason and negotiation to come up with a solution to a breach.

In this case, it’s a failure of political leadership that is costing the taxpayers millions of dollars that could have easily been avoided with some—you guessed it: grace.

When OSS offered to settle, a majority of the city commission didn’t even want to hear the details. They refused to consider the offer. They’d rather use your money to pay out of town lawyers than talk with their neighbors.

Every living former Mayor except for Tom Carney (who served for a few weeks) dating to Doak Campbell through Cary Glickstein signed a letter asking simply for the city to meet and talk with their partners of 32 years. Just talk.

Like we’ve always done; like we’ve always been able to do in what we used to call the “Delray Way.”

The OSS Board was not merely a “tenant” or a “management company”, they were the creators of what had been Delray Beach’s signature civic project. These are the people who birthed a community based cultural arts center that created a renaissance for our downtown and for our city. Pre Old School Square, Delray had been suffering from blight, vacancy and neglect before Frances Bourque and others sparked a movement.

That a civic icon has ended up on the “outs” forced to litigate the city she has served passionately says all you need to know about Delray Beach in 2023.

She is joined by a group of wonderful people who have served this town well for decades. Their hearts are broken.

A place striving to be a community would recognize this hurt and do something about it.

As of the writing of this blog, nobody has called Frances Bourque in over a year.

We’re not talking about a call to help fix the breach, discuss the future, or get some tips (which people in this city can surely use because they have sure made a mess of things). But just to say, “thank you”, or “I’m sorry for your pain.”

When the DDA got the job, they didn’t call. They should have.

My peeps call it being a mensch. A mensch, in Yiddish, is a person of integrity, morality and dignity; someone with a sense of what is right. But the term mensch is more than just an old Yiddish adage. It is relevant across the world because we are suffering from the actions of nihilists, narcissists and nincompoops. Just look at Congress.

To be a mensch is to be supportive; to be a friend, to be calm in troubled times and do the right thing.

It means showing grace.

A call doesn’t cost us anything, but it’s meaningful.

It doesn’t compromise a lawsuit and it doesn’t take hours of your day, but it would mean something if it was a sincere acknowledgement, not just a check the box gesture

Grace and gratitude matter.

Accountability also matters.

OSS has tried to own its mistakes. It has never made a representation that it was perfect. Contrary to what you’ve been told, documents that were asked for were produced (of course, the authorities kept moving the bar) and audits, while late (during a pandemic when the auditor quit), were clean.

Instead of sitting down and airing issues, like over 11,000 petitioners asked this city to do, we chose to do the opposite.

And that’s costly for us as taxpayers. That’s why you should care. That’s why you should vote.

For the folks saying move on, well tell that to the taxpayers footing the bill for all this dysfunction.

For all the money given to OSS over the years, the return on investment was many, many times greater. In fact, the money given to OSS were grants, awarded after services asked for were rendered.

OSS paid 75-80 percent of the costs and did all the work year after year.

Now, we the taxpayer, are on the hook for 100 percent of the costs. This includes millions to finish renovations that were already paid for by a generous donor who pulled her money mid-construction when the organization she supported was kicked to the curb without public input or even an agenda item. How many other generous donors who may have given to our library, Arts Garage or other non-profits looked at what happened and decided to keep their checkbook on the sidelines? Is it safe to donate to a local non-profit that works with city government?

So how do we hold people to account?

Sometimes in court and always at the ballot box and word has it that there’s an election in March.

Either venue doesn’t guarantee justice or accountability. Our system is far from perfect and bad actors sometimes get rewarded. But the long arc of history has a way of bending toward justice. Karma also plays a role.

Still, we can’t forget about graciousness.

The DDA is a capable organization, but building a community is a people business and someone from that organization should call and thank Frances Bourque, long time president Joe Gillie and  other key contributors who gave us the gift that is Old School Square. They should also call Margaret Blume, the generous donor whose gift of $1.6 million enabled the renovation of the Cornell Museum. It seems like the plaque honoring that donation was removed by someone before the re-opening of the museum.

Maybe it will be put back. It should be.

As I write this, I got a text saying that the DDA will be updating the history of OSS and will acknowledge donors. New wording should be up next week. That’s good news. But I hope the phone rings at Frances’ house because without her input I don’t know how that history could be complete or accurate.

It would have been nice to acknowledge these key players opening night. That’s when the crowds show up, the speeches are made, and the Instagram videos are posted. Alas, that opportunity came and  went. Like so many opportunities we keep missing to heal, to build community.

Absent the most recent opportunity, we can always place a call.

Again, it has nothing to do with a lawsuit and everything to do with being gracious. It has everything to do with showing empathy and respect for people who have done a lot for this town.

The hardworking team at the DDA deserves our support. We all have a rooting interest in their success as they take on this important mission.

We show grace by our well wishes.

We help to heal a community if that graciousness is reciprocated.


  1. Scott Porten says


    As always, very well said. The only compensation received by the volunteers and donors for Old School Square was the appreciation and support of the community and its leadership. I think most of the people involved with the organization will tell you that we always felt appreciated… until that August commission meeting where that appreciation was suddenly and inexplicably replaced with contempt. To date no explanation has been offered as to why the termination was done this way. There had to be a hundred better ways, and certainly more graceful ways, to achieve whatever it was they were trying to accomplish.


  2. Can’t believe the plaque honoring Mrs. Blume’s generous donations was removed…why??
    Just another slap in the face.
    Hopefully it will find its way back, along with a plaque honoring the Old School Square founders, workers, and long-time supporters, especially Mrs. Borque and Joe Gillie.

  3. Patricia Maguire says

    Thank you, Jeff! You articulated so well what many of us feel. Your words are heartfelt and true.
    Like so many of the volunteers and donors, I still cannot comprehend that in all this time none of the Town Leaders who made this decision “WITHOUT CAUSE” have deigned to talk- simply talk- with any of the Board of OSS Center for the Arts.
    We who love this town and campus would have begged for time to finish the renovation of the Crest, so as to leave the buildings in the best shape ever, reflecting the care with which we stewarded this historic landmark.
    I can personally attest that we publicly requested to turn on the lights at the Cornell in partnership with the city, but were ignored. Not even the courtesy of a no.
    We had no animosity or ill will toward anyone .
    We paid our bills, provided programming and accountability, even personal funds and definitely sweat equity, only to be maligned by people who needed to justify an incomprehensible, fiscally irresponsible decision.
    So thank you for focusing on “grace”.
    Toward that end I’d like to wish the DDA much success, and pray the people tasked with running the Cornell treat the building and the Delray community with the grace it deserves and was denied to Frances, Margaret, Joe, the hard working employees and volunteers who worked so hard.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Thanks Pati, for caring, sharing and working so passionately on behalf of the community and the arts.
      I believe in the long arc of history and I believe your efforts and those of others will be recognized, respected and sought out in years to come.
      You are awesome, Jeff

  4. Joe Gillie says

    Jeff first… thank you. Your passion sets the stage to give our community a clear understanding of what has happened and what needs to be done. I must say in my 23 years at Old School Square I never once felt isolated or unappreciated. I was surrounded by the most caring and devoted staff, volunteers, board of directors, donors, Alumni, Arts instructors and patrons. Even more proud of the unique partnership between the City and Old School Square. The Arts turned that community around … sadly based on the actions of 3 commissioners … they have killed the culture of our community and what hurts the most is the loss of opportunities for our children. I agree with you we need grace and support the care of the buildings and the development of new programs … but those commissioners need to be held accountable for the millions they will spend on their bad choice…I thank the DDA for their efforts… and you for always caring for Frances and this community!

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Thank you Joe….wonderful words from the man who gave us a record number of All America City Awards. You are the best, and we cherish you Joe.

  5. The municipal election on March 14 is an opportunity for voters to rectify what you have termed the worst decision of the last 36 years. With a wise and informed electorate, we can return Delray to a City of grace. Let’s work for the biggest voter turnout in Delray’s history.

  6. Diane Feen says

    Wow. Poetry in motion. How beautiful a testament to grace and it’s imperative addendum to our culture. Your words sting yet they inspire. I am so sad that this has happened but you have beautifully laid bare the flowers of hope among the landscape of despair. You are a Uniter with a gift to uplift with your talent and your heart. I hope it works out well in the future. And i am so sorry that those people who saved OSS from destruction are given back their treasure. God Bless them

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