Arts & Culture In The Florida Keys
Image: Steven Shires/South Florida Symphony
Florida Keys & Key West appeal to visitors through a varied cultural menu. The islands' creative community is vibrant and varied, overflowing with an energy and enthusiasm that has drawn visitors for decades.
Today this community is attracting a growing national and international market of people interested in heritage and cultural tourism and who want to experience the arts, with events ranging from an annual literary seminar to a professional symphony orchestra series.
Many elements weave together the Keys' creative tapestry.
More information about the musical, creative and artistic Florida Keys:
Many of the dance performances throughout the Keys combine together amateur and professional actors and dancers, children and adults, and local and visiting talents.
Notably, the Key West Contemporary Dance Company, a nonprofit that creates original, evening-length shows for the stages of Key West. Comprised of local and visiting artists, the troupe performs at local theaters, parks and event venues, as well as coordinates a community outreach dance program in which company members go into the schools to teach, inspire and perform with and for the children of Key West.
"Nutcracker Key West," under the guidance of Keys resident and gifted American ballet dancer Joyce Stahl, includes dance professionals from around the United States who join dozens of Keys children to create a unique island-flavored version of the classic holiday ballet.
Artist Melanie Morris works on a new piece at the popular outdoor Pigeon Key Art Festival.
A variety of art and craft shows are popular throughout the Keys, such as the Pigeon Key Art Festival traditionally held each February to celebrate the heritage of the tiny historic island beneath the Old Seven Mile Bridge southwest of Marathon.
Key West Craft Show is a critically acclaimed art festival and a leading craft show that transforms two Old Town streets into a lively open-air gallery. Old Island Days Art Festival features sculpture, graphics, photography and paintings in all mediums — acrylics, oils, watercolors and even collage where several materials are incorporated into one image. At each show, the creative artists are on hand to discuss their original work and answer questions.
The Florida Keys are home to South Florida's only nonprofit, independent film multiplex. Located in Key West, the Tropic Cinema, brainchild of the Key West Film Society, has a yearly schedule of exciting new releases, contemporary, Cinematheque, independent, foreign and alternative movies in digital and 35mm format.
Lovers of classics are equally well served, whether it's a biography of Oscar Wilde, a Hemingway tribute or films in which scenes were shot right here in the Keys.
Each year, Key Largo is host to the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival, the only one of its kind, celebrating the life and films of the man the American Film Institute named "America's greatest male screen legend." Endorsed by the Bogart Estate, the film fest is produced in partnership with the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce and features indoor and outdoor single- and double-feature showings of several Bogart classics, social events and meet-and-greets with celebrity notables.
The Key West Film Festival aims each November to showcase films that exhibit excellence in storytelling and capture the essence of what Key West is all about: creativity, diversity, sustainability, and beauty.
For more film venues in the Keys, click here.
Visitors seeking the work of visual artists can find it literally from one end of the Keys to the other.
The Florida Keys are characterized by a freewheeling exuberance and zest for life, spiced by a healthy irreverence — qualities mirrored in much of the visual art created in the island chain. Aficionados can view the art and meet the creative spirits behind it during neighborhood art strolls held each month in Islamorada and Key West. These art strolls offer a vibrant visual feast for attendees, as well as a chance to discover off-the-beaten-path galleries that spotlight the work of established artists and nurture the growth of emerging talents.
The Morada Way Arts & Cultural District (pictured at right), whose mission is to feature regularly scheduled casual gatherings where visitors and residents can discover, enjoy and obtain stimulating, one-of-a-kind fine art showcases eclectic galleries rich with affordable original artwork, during a monthly evening "walkabout" that occurs the third Thursday of each month from 6 to 10 p.m., in galleries at Morada Way between mile markers (MM) 81 and 82.
In Key West, several regular neighborhood gallery strolls are designed to draw art lovers. Perhaps the best known is the Walk on White (pictured at left), held on the island city's White Street from Southard to United streets and onto Truman Avenue the third Thursday of each month. The popular evening features exhibitions and receptions at galleries, shops and occasionally other venues.
A portion of Key West's famed Duval Street known for its eclectic galleries comes alive with art exhibitions, receptions and culinary offerings during the monthly Upper Duval Street Stroll. Participants can explore galleries, boutiques and food and wine emporiums during the event that usually takes place the first Friday of each month. Key West's Caroline and Greene streets and Historic Seaport neighborhood form a lively art and design district, site of the Art and Ambiance Walks spotlighting galleries and merchants the first Thursday of each month.
The Studios of Key West unites Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and world-renowned artists with local audiences and art practitioners through classes, performances, lectures, gallery exhibits, partnership projects and special events. TSKW also exhibits contemporary art and hosts rotating gallery exhibits as part of Key West’s monthly art stroll events.
Visiting and resident art lovers in the Middle Keys can explore and express their own creativity at The Art Studio (pictured at right), located at 12535 Overseas Highway, MM 53.6 oceanside. Offerings include workshops to learn painting in oil, watercolors and acrylic, as well as sculpting and painting pottery. Among the subjects taught in workshops and classes are throwing clay, fusing glass, creating jewelry and painting and glazing self-selected ceramics.Galleries abound — featuring oils and watercolors, sculpture of all sorts, Haitian primitives, collage, pottery, handcrafted jewelry, woodcarving, stained glass and blown glass, acrylics and a variety of fine crafts.
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Visitors interested in literature can find both history and inspiration in Key West. For approximately three-quarters of a century, Key West has been a haven and an inspiration for some of the United States' most influential writers.
Tennessee Williams at his Key West home
For more than 30 years, internationally renowned playwright Tennessee Williams lived in a cottage on a quiet Key West street. Tennessee Williams maintained his home on the island from 1949 until his death.
Robert Frost was a frequent visitor, and served as U.S. poet laureate in 1958-59. Frost first visited Key West in 1934 and wrote one of his best-known poems, "The Gift Outright," on the island. He subsequently paid winter visits to Key West from 1945 to 1960, staying in a small cottage behind the home of local hostess and preservationist Jessie Porter. Once a historic house museum, today Porter's home and the cottage, which has been named a National Literary Landmark, are privately owned and no longer open to the public.
Ernest Hemingway produced some of his finest work during his decade-long residence in the 907 Whitehead St. home that is now open for tours. Ernest Hemingway was the first popular author to make Key West his home, and a wealth of sites are associated with his decade-long presence.
Among them is Casa Antigua, 314 Simonton St., where he stayed during his initial 1928 visit. Now restored to feature a Caribbean gift shop and a spectacular atrium garden, the unique property is currently open for garden tours. Each July, Hemingway's life, work and love for Key West are honored during the city's Hemingway Days celebration. The festival features literary readings, a popular look-alike contest and a short story competition directed by Hemingway's granddaughter, critically acclaimed author Lorian Hemingway.
Leading contemporary writers from throughout the United States and abroad gather together in Key West to share insights with lovers of literature at the annual Key West Literary Seminar. Past seminar themes have included "Wondrous Strange; Mystery, Intrigue & Psychological Drama," "Historical Fiction and the Search For Truth," and "The Literature of Adventure, Travel and Discovery."
Photo by Andy Newman/TDC
While many Florida Keys locales are well known and well traveled, visitors often overlook an array of hidden treasures. Exploring the region's environmental and historic attractions can deepen an enjoyment of the Keys' colorful culture and character — particularly for artists and writers seeking pristine natural locations and landscapes to spark their creativity.
A registered national historic landmark, the Hemingway Home and Museum (pictured at left) offers guided tours of the author's home, writing studio and Key West's first swimming pool. The six-toes cats which roam the grounds are descendants of Hemingway's pets.
And a number of other historical museums and attractions such as Audubon House & Tropical Gardens and the Key West Art & History Museum at the Custom House draw visitors who seek a cultural experience to supplement the traditional "fun and sun" lure of this subtropical resort area.
Photo courtesy of Crane Point
Tucked away in Marathon is a 63-acre tropical oasis that is one of the most important historical and archaeological sites in the Keys. Crane Point Museum and Nature Center contains evidence of prehistoric Indian artifacts and was once the site of a Bahamian village. Highlights include the Museum of Natural History; a gift shop; nature trails; Adderley House (pictured at right), one of the oldest homes in the Keys outside of Key West; the Marathon Wild Bird Center; a butterfly garden and flight habitat.
In Islamorada, the Keys History & Discovery Center (pictured at left) is developing exhibits incorporating a combination of static displays and interactive media delving into first Florida Keys inhabitants, shipwrecks and salvage, Keys pioneering families, sportfishing legends and Henry Flagler's Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad. In addition, traveling exhibits already are being presented that reflect upon nature, art or history of the Keys.
Dedicated to collecting, preserving and displaying artifacts, antiques and photographs relative to diving and its heritage, the Florida Keys History of Diving Museum (pictured at right) is not only a unique Upper Keys attraction, but is a valuable educational resource. During tours of the unique museum, visitors come within inches of the earliest diving machines, including a full-scale replica of an all-wood diving bell and the Parade of Nations exhibit, an unparalleled collection of historic hard-hat dive helmets from around the world. Helmets from 25 nations are presented side by side for close inspection. The museum also hosts an annual "Immerse Yourself" free lecture series.
ICE Amphitheater, located at Founders Park, Plantation Key
While some Keys visitors are attracted by the musical sounds of waves lapping the shore and breezes stirring the palms, many other types of music also can be found along the island chain. Islamorada Community Entertainment offers exceptional classical and contemporary musical performances, including live jam sessions, reggae and bluegrass festivals throughout the year.
The Florida Keys Concert Association began as a simple quest to bring music to the Marathon community has grown into an annual tradition of musical excellence and philanthropy for the volunteer, not-for-profit organization, holding seasonal Monday evening concerts annually. The Glenn Miller Orchestra, one of the most popular big bands in today's music world, the renowned Moscow Chamber Orchestra and several other nationally and internationally acclaimed artists have all been part of Upper Keys Concert Series performances. As well as presenting concerts each year, the center also established an Arts for Youth program whose goal is to make cultural experiences available to Upper Keys students.
Some of the best things in life are free, at least in the Florida Keys. Through the dedication and talent of members and supporters of the Florida Keys Community Concert Band (pictured at left), an entire Pops in the Park season of themed outdoor concerts is offered free at Founders Park, mile marker (MM) 87 bayside in Islamorada.
The South Florida Symphony (pictured at right), a unique gathering of professional symphonic musicians from around the United States, began as the Key West Symphony and is guided by nationally recognized conductor and Key West native Sebrina Maria Alfonso. Complimenting the orchestra members' talents are soloists chosen to enhance each musical program, as well as performances by the Blue Door String Quartet and tantalizing "Tropical Beats" events that showcase musical artistry.
From Key Largo to Key West, the performing arts flourish. Talented theater companies can be found from Key Largo to Key West presenting musicals, comedies and direct-from-Broadway productions.
Cast from Reefer Madness, The Musical at Waterfront Playhouse. Photo by Al Sachs
The islands are home to numerous theaters and community theater groups whose offerings are supported by both residents and visitors. The talent pool encompasses skilled locals and professional actors from New York and Los Angeles seeking sunshine. Full-book musicals, searing dramas, sidesplitting comedies and children's shows all take their turn on the stages of the Keys.
For more than 35 years, the Key Players community theater group in Key Largo has brought high-quality entertainment to residents and visitors. Shows are staged at Key Largo's Lions Club at 99353 Overseas Highway, mile marker (MM) 99 oceanside.
The Marathon Community Theater began as a small community group in 1944 and garners its performers from a talented pool of local residents. The theater is located at 5101 Overseas Highway, MM 49.5 oceanside in Marathon around the corner from the Plaza Grill.
A newly renovated performing arts center, the Key West Theater (pictured at right) presents original plays, musicals, films, concerts and more. Located at 512 Eaton St., the theater's box office opens on days of shows, as well as offers online ticket purchases. Phone 305-985-0433.
Key West's Red Barn Theatre presents intriguing productions that have become a cultural cornerstone for the Key West community while building a national reputation for creating BIG things in a small space. Theatre goers can find the small cultural cornerstone at 319 Duval St. Show tickets are available online. Box office 305-296-9911.
In 1980, Tennessee Williams presented the world premiere of his play "Will Mr. Merriweather Return From Memphis?" to debut the new Key West theater that bore his name. Today, the Tennessee Williams Theatre is an important center for Key West's cultural community and hosts regular productions by visiting and resident professional music and theatre companies.
A scene from Desert Cities, at Key West's Waterfront Playhouse. Photo by Larry Blackburn
Organized shortly after the beginning of World War II, the Key West Players are believed to be the oldest continually operating theater troupe in Florida. They present their shows at the island's Waterfront Playhouse. The intimate, 150-seat Waterfront Playhouse is located at 310 Wall St. adjacent to Key West's Mallory Square. When the sun sets, the curtain rises at the Waterfront Playhouse.
The eclectic Key West Fringe Theater presents a lively season with "immersion" performances in various nontheater settings chosen to complement each production, such as Key West's Custom House Museum, and the historic San Carlos Institute.
Cutting edge performances at The Studios of Key West's 200-seat auditorium include live concerts, dance, performance art, theatrical productions, burlesque, circus arts as well as experimentation in the physical arts of storytelling through dance, and acrobatics.
Outdoor Art & Art In Public Places
Visual artistry can be seen all over the Florida Keys: in palm-fringed shorescapes that edge the Atlantic Ocean, orange and purple abstracts unrolling across the sky at sunset, and the clean-lined sculptural arches of the old Overseas Highway bridges.
Each year, the open-air exhibition typically runs the months between December and March, and features pieces by renowned and emerging international, national and local artists.
From offbeat large-scale sculptures to murals promoting ocean conservation, outdoor artistry flourishes in the island chain.
Some prime examples can be spotted along the Overseas Highway in the Upper Keys; as the road stretches above and beside the waters of the Atlantic and Florida Bay, a good number of the roadside creations depict the area's abundant marine life.
For example, Betsy (pictured at left), the larger-than-life replica of a crustacean, greets visitors to the quaint open-air colony of artists at Rain Barrel, in Islamorada.
An outdoor mural by artist Rick Worth, entitled "The Nitch" (pictured at right), can be seen on the exterior of the departures terminal at the Key West International Airport.
Visitors can find many other public spaces in the Keys with local art: the Roth Building on Plantation Key, the Freeman Justice Center in Key West, Big Pine Park Community Center, and the Murray E. Nelson Government & Cultural Center in Key Largo.
Click here for a complete schedule of Arts & Cultural Events.