Arts organizations in the Upper Florida Keys have a long and illustrious history. Volunteers do the lion’s share of the work for them, so it is remarkable that one is celebrating a golden anniversary in 2016 and two are celebrating 38 years. Quilters have chalked up 33 years as an official entity.
The Florida Keys Quilters officially formed in 1982 with the exchange of ideas and improvement of quilt skills as its main goals. They meet and sew in the Key Largo Library’s Community Room every Friday and on the first Saturday of the month at 10 a.m. for a “Sit and Sew,” and on Wednesdays at the Islamorada Library. The group started with 13 original members in 1979 and has grown to more than 100 members.
Anyone who is interested in having a good time whether they can sew or not is invited. “We are a group of quilters interested in quilting, sewing, appliqué, and making new friends — learning as we go,” said Priscilla London, publicity chair. “We have yearly programs of classes taught by members and professional teachers, and we provide field trips to quilt shows and other points of interest.” They also hold a biennial quilt show.
Judy Ebbert, one of the original 13 people that founded the Florida Keys Quilters, said Sally Tanner was a Keys resident who also resided in Tampa. In December 1979, there was a Quilt Shop called “Accent 2” in Key Largo and Tanner put up a notice that she would teach a quilt class out of her home for anyone interested. That started the 13 original quilters and they learned to do a 16-block sampler quilt in which each block was a different technique. Then, in 1980, they started taking turns and meeting in each others’ homes to quilt. “It was quite informal for a few years,” said Ebbert. They held their first quilt show at the “Old Community Church Center” in Tavernier.
Of course, new arts groups and events spring up with a dedicated following. The monthly Third Thursday Morada Way Arts District’s Walkabout, which is a popular free evening stroll through the galleries and arts booths at mile marker 81.6 oceanside, began in 2011, and the annual one-day Islamorada Writers and Readers Seminar founded by Jill Zima Borski marked three years in 2015.
Joyce Bennett School of Dance and Performing Arts operated in Key Largo for 40 years, with the Bennett family selling its two-story building to a veterinarian a few years ago and the business to some talented former students.
On Your Toes Dance Studio opened its doors in 1990. Nancy Dunn began introducing children to the art of dance, teaching classes in ballet, tap, jazz and gymnastics. Originally located under the Old Tavernier Restaurant, it outgrew its space within five years and moved to its current location at MM 92.5 oceanside. Modern, contemporary and hip hop dance also are offered. “We pride ourselves on limited class sizes, multiple class levels for optimal learning, and a highly-trained faculty,” says its website.
The Florida Keys Council of the Arts represents all the arts, all the time, in all the Keys. It produces the annual Keyswide connections project known as the Mosaic in which 400 artists paint or decorate a 6-by-6-inch canvas and they are meted out in exchange for a donation.
Since so many of the Upper Keys arts organizations rely on volunteers’ participation, talents and enthusiasm, new “blood” is always welcome. So, to get involved, check out the arts council’s website, www.keysart.com, or seek out any of the organizations mentioned in part one or part two of this story.