Florida Keys

New producers hired for Key West’s Fantasy Fest

Fantasy Fest inspires costume designers to hit the streets of Key West.
Fantasy Fest inspires costume designers to hit the streets of Key West.

A prominent Key West artist and a veteran event planner will team up to produce the annual 10-day Fantasy Fest this October, having struck a deal with the nonprofit that owns the event’s name.

Marky Pierson, an art designer and filmmaker, and his Wonderdog Studios, and Nadene Grossman Orr, president and CEO of We’ve Got the Keys, an upscale wedding and event planning company, made a successful pitch to the Tourist Development Association, Pierson said.

“We’ve had all the meetings and they officially said we’ve got it but it’s not contracted,” Pierson said. “It’s not signed.”

Pierson said he believed the contract would run at least three years but declined to mention what he will be paid, describing Fantasy Fest as a “self-sustaining festival,” that pays the city for services.

“It’s a major undertaking but we’re ready for it,” said Pierson, a co-founder of Key West’s Zombie Bike Ride that draws thousands during the same last week in October when Fantasy Fest rolls around.

Wonderdog will handle the art design and media while We’ve Got the Keys tackles the business end, Pierson said.

In recent years, Key West city leaders have grappled with complaints from locals over exactly who was paying the Fantasy Fest bills.

In 2016, city staff said it costs Key West $280,000 a year to pay for services related to clean-up and streets due to Fantasy Fest, while the TDA agreed to reimburse the city up to $72,747, saying it loses money on the event.

For 27 years, the TDA hired Market Share to produce Fantasy Fest, which started in 1979 by local businessmen looking to bring tourists to the island during what was traditionally the slowest time of the year.

But Linda O’Brien, Market Share’s founder, dissolved the company when she retired Dec. 31 and the TDA, the event’s original owner and manager, sought applications from new producers.

Fantasy Fest, billed as a week-long party for adults, includes parties, costuming and body-painted revelers, along with a Saturday night parade of floats on Duval Street.

But over the years, independent party events produced by locals, such as the Zombie Bike Ride, have sprung up and attracted throngs of locals and tourists alike.

Grossman Orr is a producer behind the Key West Songwriters Festival, which started in 1994, and former event director of the Key West Film Festival. Originally from Long Island, New York, Grossman Orr moved to the Keys in 1991 and opened We’ve Got the Keys in 2004, according to the company’s website.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen