In the mid-1930s, the Florida Keys â like most of America â were reeling from the Great Depression. Thatâs when Florida Governor Julius Stone, and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, coordinated an influx of artists and writers to paint murals, write guidebooks, teach craft classes and help turn the area into an attractive vacation destination. And guess what? It worked.
Today, the Keysâ creative and cultural community is more vibrant and varied than Stone ever could have imagined. Writers are drawn by the offbeat, laidback atmosphere and wealth of quirky tales. Musicians and actors find appreciative Keys audiences. And artists are enthralled by the ever-changing tropical light and the engaging people and places around almost every corner.
Looking for the work of artists and artisans? You can find it literally from one end of the Keys to the other. Galleries abound, filled with oils and watercolors, sculpture, Haitian primitives, collage, pottery, handcrafted jewelry, wood carving, stained and blown glass, metalwork, acrylics and fine crafts.
And theyâre all different. Some galleries specialize in tropically themed pieces, some are co-ops run by the artists themselves, and others are gallery/studios where you can meet the artists and watch them work.
On top of that, the Keys offer a rich calendar of art and crafts shows. Whether theyâre juried exhibitions of fine art or colorful craft extravaganzas, they draw creative spirits from the Keys and other areas. One of the best is the Pigeon Key Art Festival, held in Marathon each February and named for a tiny island beneath the Old Seven Mile Bridge.
But you donât have to venture into a gallery or go to an art show to spot engaging local creations. Outdoor art can be seen throughout the Keys, whether itâs murals celebrating the underwater world or sculptures in public places.
In Key West, of course, the creative atmosphere centers around a rich literary heritage. Tennessee Williams owned a home on the island from 1949 until his death, Robert Frost was a regular visitor and Ernest Hemingway wrote some of his best works during his decade-long residence.
Every July, Key West hosts a festival celebrating Hemingwayâs life and work â and his former Whitehead Street home is open for tours.
But icons like Hemingway and Williams were only the beginning.Â Key Westâs literary community â which has sheltered Pulitzer Prize winners and notables ranging from Elizabeth Bishop to Judy Blume â is as lively today as it was during Hemingwayâs era. And each January, the famed Key West Literary Seminar draws writers like Amy Tan, Frank McCourt and Joyce Carol Oates to discuss their craft in front of a spellbound audience.
Youâll find performing arts from Key West to Key Largo. The Keys are home to a number of theaters and community theater groups, many with long and lively histories. The talent pool is truly incredible â ranging from skilled locals to visiting pros who take part in full-book musicals, dramas, sidesplitting comedies and more.
And music? After enjoying the melodic sounds of tropical breezes and waves washing ashore, check out other sources of top-flight musical entertainment: Impromptu Classical Concerts of Key West, the fabulous Key West Songwriterâs Festival, the Florida Keys Concert Association, Islamorada Community Entertainment and many, many more.
In other words, the Florida Keys might be known for their world-class diving and fishing, mellow atmosphere and balmy climate â but their place as a haven for creative spirits canât be denied. Founded on the legacies of Ernest Hemingway and Julius Stone, the cultural scene is a vital element in the Keysâ exuberant appeal.