A Florida Keys vacation is the perfect time to explore your creative talents — and what better place to do it than Islamorada? Well known as a sport fishing mecca, Islamorada has recently earned significant acclaim as an arts and cultural hotspot.

The Morada Way Arts & Cultural District's monthly art strolls are eagerly anticipated for their blend of artistry and community spirit. (All photos courtesy of the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District)

It all began two years ago with the debut of a monthly art walk through several blocks of the Old Highway that house art galleries, restaurants, and more. Soon local businesses, non-profits and musicians joined in the popular event.

Held on the third Thursday of each month, the walks offer a great chance to meander at your own pace through what is now known as the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District — viewing the work of fine artists and craftspeople, listening to live music and sampling culinary treats.

The art walk became so popular that, on the first anniversary of its founding, the district held the inaugural Islamorada Fine Art Expo. Now an annual event, it draws noted fine artists and craftspeople to the island to showcase their talents and wares.

Most recently, the district’s organizers launched Morada Way University (which, believe me, is not your typical institution of higher learning!) that features classes for everyone from young people to seniors interested in different creative disciplines.

Dick Hagood, executive director of the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District, and his son Brett break ground for the new Morada Way University.

The instructors at this appealing school are professional local artists and craftspeople, who aren’t salaried but instead volunteer to conduct classes in their fields.

Courses generally run from two to eight sessions — making them perfect for visitors spending a short time in the Keys — and tuition varies depending on the course length.

The “campus” of Morada Way U includes an organic garden with an outdoor kitchen where cooking classes are held. Local fish and vegetables from the garden are prime (and delightfully fresh) ingredients in the dishes created by local chefs.

Own a digital camera but can’t figure out how to get the best pictures? You can sign up for a series of eight classes designed to make you an expert photographer. And instructor Pete Bacheler gives homework assignments, just like traditional college professors!

Eager to develop your painting skills? Morada Way University offers classes in multiple techniques.

Painting can be a satisfying hobby or the beginning of a second-life career, and Morada Way U has several types of classes to nurture emerging talents. Plein air, mixed media, pastels — you name it, there’s something for you.

Many of us envy people who wear hand-knit sweaters they’ve made themselves. A class in knitting will get any newbie started on the path to a hobby that can be productive as well as relaxing.

Interested in ceramics? Consider a class taught by David Meyers of Matecumbe Studio Gallery, where students learn to make small pitchers to contain miniature bouquets — ideal as a creative addition to the home or a memorable personalized gift.

And if you’re a wordsmith eager to express yourself with more polish and flair, you can learn from professionals how to improve the quality of your work.

Dick Hagood teaches proper tool use in practical class for women only.

Seeking purely practical skills? Dick Hagood conducts a class in the proper use of tools for those nagging little repair jobs that never seem to get done. Designed for women only, the class is empowering AND can save money on handyman charges.

Morada Way University’s winter sessions run through April 13 and plans are being finalized for spring classes and workshops.

You’re never too old (or too young!) to learn new ways to express your creativity and share your talents — so why not explore this unique school’s offerings today?

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