Art is in the air, and you can sense it in South Florida’s mild winter days. Long gone are the crowds, big-spenders, international collectors, jetsetters and celebrities who flocked to Art Basel Miami Beach and its satellite fairs.
“Regardless of where you are in your path toward cultural appreciation, these fairs provide an entry point for everyone,” says Xavier Cortada, an artist-in-residence at Florida International University’s School of Environment, Arts and Society. “It’s not jut northerners who fly in during Art Basel to consume art, it’s a homegrown cadre of thousands of residents who populate these festivals.”
The goal is to foster a community that is “culturally engaged and well informed about what the creative class is doing,” explains Cortada, an openly gay painter who was once selected as the poster artist for the Coconut Grove Arts Festival (CGAF).
Built on decades of local participation, this mile-long outdoor event held annually on Presidents’ Day weekend, is a local arts scene institution. Countless artistic disciplines are featured, from visual and culinary to music. This year, organizers want to set a Guinness World Record for assembling the world’s largest arroz con pollo in a gigantic paella pan.
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“People are looking now to art as their source of entertainment,” says CGAF president Monty Trainer.
Running concurrently is Art Wynwood, a comparatively newer fair that’s held in Miami’s hip Midtown district and has increasingly become a cultural destination in its own right. The atmosphere feels like an extension of Art Basel, given that the exhibitors are some of the same galleries that present emerging artists and contemporary and modern works at the big December fest. The difference here is that local artists are given prominence.
In Broward, Las Olas Art Fair Part II blends an eclectic mix of artists with great weather and food in downtown Fort Lauderdale, March 4-5. This high-caliber event is the ideal vehicle to engage fairgoers in contemporary and interactive art, breaking down the invisible walls between spectators and creators. Artists get to see people’s unfiltered reactions to their work.
Meanwhile in Key West, the nationally renowned Old Island Days Art Festival enhances the city’s character for embracing fine arts and culture. The open-air show takes place February 25-26 in the Old Town district. Hosting over 100 artists whose works range from watercolor, acrylics and oils to sculpture, collage and photography, the event gives art lovers a chance to mingle with both up-and-coming and established artists.
The Keys’ creative community is also behind the Pigeon Key Art Festival, which transforms Marathon Community Park into a tropically themed oasis of color, February 4-5. In addition to the exemplary artists and craftsmen, hands-on exhibits like the marine touch tank, fun learning opportunities and art creation stations make this a truly family-friendly fair.
These festivals and several others that take place throughout the year are a testament to the legacy built by artists, gallery owners, public officials and museums locally.