Newspaper article International New York Times

The Arts Find a Home in Upper Florida Keys

Newspaper article International New York Times

The Arts Find a Home in Upper Florida Keys

Article excerpt

A spate of galleries and working studios set up by islanders and transplants has highlighted a growing community of artists.

More than an hour's drive south of Miami, Islamorada in the Upper Florida Keys has a history of reinventing itself. Practically annihilated by the 1935 Labor Day hurricane (still considered the strongest to reach landfall in the United States), this "Village of Islands" became known for quality sport fishing, attracting professional and amateur anglers from around the world.

On the artistic front, Islamorada was a sleeper of an area for years because serious art lovers often headed toward the galleries at Key West. But recently, a spate of galleries and working studios set up by islanders and transplants has highlighted a growing community of artists whose voice is defined predominantly by local marine life.

Many artists were inspired by the success of monthly bazaar- style art walks started by a nonprofit called Morada Way Arts and Cultural District founded in 2011 by three longtime residents, Dick Hagood, Pasta Pantaleo and Laurie Wickham, who created a downtown "arts district." This tranquil stretch of a few blocks off U.S. Route 1 (81.2 miles from Miami) is flanked by houses painted in tropical colors of pale blue, pink and green.

The area is book-ended by the speakeasy-style Green Turtle Inn, established in 1947, and the quietly powerful Hurricane Monument, made from a locally quarried coral rock known as keystone.

A recent art walk (held every third Thursday evening of the month) attracted locals and passers-by who poked around galleries and chatted with artists. "Artists who had no gallery space found that they finally had a venue to show their work and meet collectors," said Betsy Keteltas, former executive director of the arts and cultural district. From a trickle of a few hundred visitors when they started, the walks now attract thousands each month.

Soon, artists began setting up storefronts in the area. …

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