‘The Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation is my ministry’: Foundation celebrates 20 years

Savannah Vasquez
Summer Concerts in the Village program at the Dugas Pavilion and Mattie Kelly Arts Village green.

It all started with a dream, a small outdoor stage and six picnic tables. In 1995, a handful of Destin residents wished to bring more arts and cultural events to the Emerald Coast. The group began hosting outdoor concerts once a week for the community to enjoy and soon thereafter the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation (MKAF) was born.

“The outdoor concerts were actually held at the Kelly Plantation outdoor theatre in a little theater that was almost hidden in the woods,” said MKAF Chief Executive Officer Marcia Hull. “In the beginning the concerts brought out only 200 to 300 people, but today we are having anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 people attending.”

This year the local non-profit is celebrating its 20th year, and Hull told The Log that the first item on the agenda is to commemorate all those who have gone before, and to thank all the community members that have made the organization successful.

 “The foundation was founded on the beliefs of a late Destin matriarch, Mattie Kelly, based on her cultural, visionary and religious beliefs,” said Hull. “She was very passionate about the arts and education as she was a poet herself and a teacher.”

Hull noted that the Kelly family donated land for the Destin Elementary School and the Destin airport as well as the land now used for the non-profit’s outdoor events; the Mattie Kelly Cultural Arts Village.

“I really have to applaud the founding board members and those that have really carried on Mattie Kelly’s dream with the 52-acre parcel,” said Hull. “I also really want to salute all the people of this community because they have been on the cultural journey with us. It’s not just a handful of people but community collaboration.”

Growth and Success

As outlined on their website the MKAF mission is: to be champions of cultural arts and education in Northwest Florida and their vision is: to impact lives through arts and culture.

“We have a tagline that says, ‘It takes a village; join our arts community,’” said Hull. “It’s our vision to build a strong cultural season not only for our residents here but also for our visitors along the Emerald Coast.”

Following that mantra, the MKAF’s educational outreach program All Kinds of Art (AKA) has now touched the lives of more than 265,000 children in schools up and down the Emerald Coast.

“We are not only known for our concerts and our festivals but we are also known for our education outreach program,” said Hull. “Our All Kinds of Art program helps to reach some of the underserved, low-income and at-risk children in our community to bring interactive art-based activities, at no cost to the school district or the students. We try to be a proactive education partner to supplement art curriculum and give residents of Northwest Florida quality of life and quality of place.”

Hull told The Log the All Kinds of Art program not only provides supplemental art instruction to local schools but also sponsors annual summer arts and theater camps and encourages regional art companies to collaborate for a more unified local arts scene.

“We try to support one another so that people understand that we do have a cultural community especially along the coast here,” Hull said. “We call them our art alliance partners because we want to find a way to work together with our other local arts groups. We believe it helps make our community much stronger and gives patrons of our community something to be proud of.”

Commemorate the Past, Celebrating the Future

For the 20 year anniversary, both the MKAF and the city of Destin are honoring matriarch Mattie Kelly with tributes.

In a nod towards all she did for the local community, the city of Destin recently named March 12 as Mattie Kelly Day. The day would have been her 103rd birthday.

“I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t able to enjoy a concert or event at Mattie Kelly,” said Stacey Brady, MKAF 20th Anniversary Chairperson. “In a community our size, to have world class entertainment and outreach, this is something we should really cherish.”

As for the foundation, multiple tributes and events are planned for the celebratory year.

“We have created a keepsake 20th anniversary magazine full of images, photos and posters and a 20-year timeline,” said Brady. “It’s a really exciting keepsake.”

The entertainment line-up, as in years past, has again pulled out all of the stops.

 “Kicking off our 20th anniversary year, our first event will be the ‘December 63’ concert held on April 11 at the village,” said Brady. “The band pays homage to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.”

The MKAF’s signature event, Concerts in the Village, will launch on May 7 and continue the tradition of weekly outdoor concerts in Destin.

“The other new event that’s been created, bringing a genre new to this market, is a blue grass concert and day-long event on September 12 in the village,” said Brady. “The band, ‘Bluegrass at the Beach,’ will perform at the pavilion, and for bluegrass lovers, it doesn’t get much better than that.”

The foundation is also celebrating the 20th year of Festival of Arts to be held in October and Sounds of the Season, the annual Christmas concert.

“It’s a really stellar line up,” said Brady. “The Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation is known for presenting really high quality, fun events in an affordable manner.”

Looking towards the future, Hull told The Log that she is excited to see the MKAF take on another 20 years of arts and culture on the Emerald Coast.

“We have a vision for a multipurpose building at the village that would allow us to bring in people of all ages,” she said. “The building will include educational classrooms, a gallery and art space, a state-of-the-art culinary center and a cultural garden.”

For Hull, who has been working for the foundation for 16 years, this year will not only highlight the legacy of her role model, but push that legacy forward into the years to come. 

 “The Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation is my ministry,” she said. “Outside of my faith in God and my country, I am dedicated and committed to seeing Mattie Kelly’s dream become reality.”

For more information about Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation or for a schedule of events visit