SAFETY HARBOR — For artists Todd Ramquist and Kiaralinda, both 50, the Pepsi Refresh Project has turned into one big, fat Pepsi headache.
As it turns out, the Safety Harbor residents aren't even entered in the January competition for a grant they had hoped would help fund their dream museum. They're the victims of an apparent computer glitch, though e-mails and calls to Pepsi officials for further explanation were not returned by press time Tuesday.
A story in Sunday's Clearwater & North Pinellas Times detailed their quest for a $50,000 grant to build the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center, a place for art, music, writing workshops and other creative ventures.
The grant application was submitted to the Pepsi Refresh Project, a philanthropic program by the soda giant that doles awards in increments of $250,000, $50,000, $25,000 and $5,000 to worthy community endeavors as determined by online voters.
The couple thought they were in the running after receiving a confirmation e-mail stating their application was "successfully received as one of the first 1,000" to enter.
The e-mail did contain one caveat: "On January 1st at around 1 a.m. EST, we will send out another e-mail notice to advise you whether the submission was approved or rejected. Approved projects are then posted to the website for voting January 1, 2011," wrote Shana L. in customer care. (The online voting competition actually began Monday.)
The artists said information on the website refreshingeverything.com under the post-submission category led them to conclude they were in after two weeks.
There it states: "It takes us roughly two weeks to review all 1,000 submissions. During that time, you can learn some tips on how to promote your idea if it is approved." And friends who had been in the competition before assured them they were a shoo-in.
"We had no doubts that we were in the competition and wouldn't have gone through all the effort had we thought there was any problem at all," Ramquist said.
In the meantime, the artists began to publicize their efforts through local media, by creating a float in the city's holiday parade and handing out postcards.
They set up a Facebook page and blogged and e-mailed their hearts out to their friends, family and fans.
On Sunday, a few hours before voting was to begin, another e-mail arrived saying their application wasn't submitted according to guidelines and encouraging them to resubmit March 1, when new applications will be accepted.
There was no explanation.
Stunned, Ramquist said he spent Monday and Tuesday trying to find out what happened.
"We were basically told our application was showing up blank and it was some kind of computer glitch," he said. "We couldn't believe that they would send us an e-mail hours before the competition started saying there was a problem when they'd had our application since Dec. 1."
He said he Kiaralinda, who goes by just her first name, have received hundreds of phone calls and e-mails from confused supporters.
In the meantime, they are trying to remain positive. They hope to expand their voting base and enter in March for the April competition.
"We're going to regroup and re-enter," Kiaralinda said, "and the art and music center will move forward."