28th Annual Festival of the Arts Oct 27-29

October 20, 2023 by SoWal Staff

Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation (MKAF) celebrates the cultural arts by expanding and enhancing the offerings of its annual Festival of the Arts set for October 27-29.

This year’s event kicks off on Friday, Oct. 27 at 6 p.m. with the Arty Kick-Off Party on the Henderson Beach Resort’s Piazza Plaza. Award-winning oil painting artist Kathy Schumacher will paint live, while guests enjoy hors d’oeuvres, creative cocktails by Black Sheep Tequila, live music by Coconut Radi, and a cash bar. Tickets to the Arty Kick-Off Party are $75 per person (includes two drink tickets).

One of the Southeast's premier art festivals, the two-day signature event (Saturday, Oct. 28 and Sunday, Oct. 29) held in tents dotting the Dugas Pavilion green in Destin, features art exhibits of more than 100 artists (including the juried and collaborative exhibit) from 17 states showcasing a diverse palette of artistic styles in a range of different art mediums. Admission to the Festival is free.

“To enrich this year’s Festival, we’ve added the Arty Kick-Off Party at Henderson Beach Resort on Friday, a VIP Sponsor Loung, and a fun immersive experience for kids with Maxine Orange’s Splatter Studio — we hope you enjoy it all,” said MKAF Festival Producer Deb Nissley.

Art lovers of all ages will be able to watch artists create works during live art demonstrations, browse art from dozens of emerging and student artists, and get hands-on in the interactive children’s art station. Beyond the visual arts, the Festival will feature two days of continual live music and a sampling of the local culinary arts scene. Entertaining street performers, lively art drawings, and the sale of colorful keepsake souvenirs — all create a family-friendly festival feel.

A Celebration of the Arts

The 28th annual edition of the Festival brings fresh art and new faces to the sugar-sand beaches of the Emerald Coast. This year, artists will be displaying everything from oil paintings and fine photography to mixed media, mosaics, sculpture, clay ceramics, jewelry, and more. After more than two decades, this Festival has become a popular and proven showcase for some of the best artistic talent nationwide who venture to Northwest Florida to compete for more than $12,000 in cash prizes.

The judging panel includes Carrie Ann Baade a professor of painting and drawing at Florida State University and Dale Castellucci, adjunct instructor and sculpture lab supervisor, teaches painting, drawing, sculpture, and design at the University of West Florida. They will award artist prizes in the juried and collaborative art categories. On Saturday, Festivalgoers are invited to vote for the “People’s Choice” Artist Award by casting a ballot located at the Main Festival Entrance.

One of the unique features of the Festival is the Collaborative Art Exhibit, which showcases the work of seasoned and emerging adult artists and local student artists competing for the $850 McIlroy Awards given by Pam and Peter McIlroy in honor of the late Patricia McIlroy, Destin’s first First Lady and an MKAF advocate and patron.

The Festival provides opportunities for all ages to interact and immerse themselves in the vibrant art scene. The children’s Creation Station welcomes youngsters to enjoy free face painting by Orabel Art, hands-on fun creating seasonal crafts, and the Maxine Orange Splatter Studio that is sure to unleash any kids’ artistic inspiration.

A Celebration of Music

This year’s live entertainment lineup expands to seven live music performances and — new this year — live theater scenes. Saturday (10-11:30 a.m.) Jones & Company deliver jazz, soul, and world music, then rock, blues, dance, and original music by Tillman & Taff (12:30-2 p.m.), followed by Barney’s Bullet (3-4:30 p.m.) delivering their own spin on Bluegrass. New this year, from 2:15- 2:45 p.m. Stage Crafters Community Theatre company members will perform scenes from their upcoming fall musical production of Something Rotten.

On Sunday, Now & Then (10-11 a.m.) opens the Festival with folk tunes that allow them to showcase their acoustic fiddle and guitar, followed by Roman Street Trio (11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.) — an instrumental band specializing in improvisational fusion of Classical, Gypsy, and Contemporary Jazz, Latin, and Nuevo Flamenco. Sinfonia Youth Orchestra (1:45-2:15 p.m.) performs folk, holiday seasonal, and classic favorites and The Wavy Winstons (2:30-4 p.m.) closes out the Festival by treating Festivalgoers to a performance infused with folk, pop, jazz, and island music. 

The Art of Dining

The Festival has expanded its culinary arts experience, too. Cuisine on the Green will serve up samplings of Latin-inspired vegan cuisine by Con Sabor, Pan-Asian-style cuisine by My Ohana, Texas smoked BBQ from Red Neck Riviera Smokers, original Southern gourmet sandwiches a crème brulee from Stanley Street Treats, plus Italian ice and gelato from Repicci’s of the Panhandle and classic Kettle Corn from Panhandle Concessions. Foodies can toast the arts with select wine, beer, and fresh-crafted Bloody Mary cocktails in the Beer and wine Garden.

More Festival Amenities

Buy Festival Merchandise — This year's official Festival guide, poster, and t-shirt feature the Forida-inspired artwork of Cape Coral, Florida-based oil painter Roger van Lieshout. Signed and numbered poster prints and souvenir t-shirts featuring Van Lieshout’s vibrant, whimsical oil on canvas entitled Flamboyant — that beautifully evokes the spirit of Florida living — will be available for sale in the Souvenir Tent.

Win Art! — Be sure to also visit the Art Drawing Tent and enter the charity benefit drawing for chances to win a range of original artwork generously donated by the Festival artists. The drawing will take place on Sunday, Oct. 29 at 3 p.m., but you do not need to be present to win.    

Get the Guide —A complimentary four-color Festival Guide containing a roster of all artists, a map of the Festival site, the entertainment lineup, a list of food & beverage vendors, and other helpful hints on how to navigate through the Festival is available at the entrance.

Free Parking/Shuttle — Park for free at Destin High School located adjacent to the Cultural Arts Village or at Emerald Coast Centre, located on Highway 98 near Beall’s Department Store, and ride the free continuous shuttle service right to the main entrance. The Cultural Arts Village is designed as an ADA-compliant venue with available handicap parking.  

Convenient Art Pick-Up — Purchasers of large artwork or multiple pieces can obtain an “art pickup” pass from the Festival Main Entry Tent. For Festival fans using the art shuttle, simply retrieve your vehicle and display your pass on your dashboard to gain access to the Festival entrance.

Get Involved — The Festival is sponsored, in part, by local businesses and media partners, and is produced with the help of a team of more than dedicated volunteers. Volunteer shifts are available by contacting Volunteer Coordinator Stephanie Shea (850) 217-2833 or email her at To sign up to Volunteer, click the link here

The Festival is free and open to the public and runs Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Donations are welcome. Proceeds benefit ArtsReach, MKAF’s arts education community outreach program serving K-12 students, adults, and children with special needs and military and veteran populations.

To purchase tickets to Arty Kick-Off Party and more information about the Festival of the Arts, visit or call (850) 650-2226.



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