In the easygoing Florida Keys, vacationing is an art form. And visitors seeking cultural experiences to supplement the Keys’ subtropical “fun and sun” lure will find arts offerings in virtually all genres.
Lisa Lee (left) demonstrates her gyotaku technique on camera for a Florida Keys television special.
Enthusiasts can satisfy their appetite for art by exploring galleries from Key Largo to Key West, festivals that spotlight the island chain’s rich creative heritage, protected natural sites and eclectic events that showcase the talents of local residents.
While the Keys’ cultural activities are so varied and appealing that it’s hard to single out just a few, here are four can’t-miss adventures that visitors can enjoy.
Blend Angling and Art in a Gyotaku Experience. Marine artist Lisa Lee is well known in creative circles for her gyotaku — the ancient Japanese art form for recording a catch. Following an angling excursion, Lisa greets gyotaku-seeking clients at the dock to begin preserving their prized fish as art. She uses nontoxic inks to painstakingly press the fish on kozo paper, or traditional Japanese mulberry paper, and later details colorful embellishments at her studio-gallery at 81641 Old Highway in Islamorada. Her goal is to capture the beauty and uniqueness of each fish on paper as a permanent reminder of the angling adventure — and her lovely images do just that. Visit gyotakubylisalee.com.
Stroll the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District. One of the Upper Keys’ most popular scheduled events is the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District’s Third Thursday ArtWalk in Islamorada. Taking place the third Thursday evening of each month (of course!), the stroll spotlights national and Keys-based artists and galleries at Morada Way between mile markers 81 and 82 — plus a blend of culinary art from local eateries and performances by local musicians and entertainers. But the district’s enticing attractions aren’t limited to art walk evenings. Morada Way’s rich blend of visual artistry, fine crafts and great food can be enjoyed daily on individual explorations. Visit moradaway.org.
This winsome scarecrow is an example of the earth-friendly artistry displayed at the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden. (Photo by Misha McRAE)
Celebrate Celtic Heritage in Marathon. Celtic history, culture, food and music are celebrated each year at the Florida Keys Celtic Festival, an eagerly anticipated event in the Middle Keys. Held each January, it’s well worth waiting for — because the family-friendly festivities typically include nonstop live music by Celtic rock and traditional musicians, a Highland Athletics competition, reenactments and Irish dancing, activities for kids, Celtic merchandise, food and drink, and even sheep-herding demonstrations. The two-day extravaganza takes place at Marathon Community Park at mile marker 49, and the 2024 festival is scheduled Jan 6-7. Visit floridakeyscelticfestival.com.
Explore the ‘Artful’ Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden. At the gateway to Key West lies a secluded 15-acre conservation habitat and subtropical botanical garden — a garden whose lush landscape is often the backdrop for imaginative art. Just off College Road at mile marker 5 bayside, the site is believed to be the only frost-free tropical moist forest garden in the continental United States. Each year, it hosts the summertime Art in the Garden exhibit of earth-friendly pieces and fall’s whimsical Scarecrows in the Forest installation (starting Sept. 1). Nature enthusiasts will also find two wetland habitats, two butterfly gardens with fragrant plants, national and state champion trees, resident and migratory birds, and many threatened and endangered species. Visit keywest.garden.
With an intriguing history and a natural beauty that has inspired generations of creative spirits, the Florida Keys feature cultural experiences that can’t be found anywhere else. Click here to discover upcoming offerings.