MKAF's Festival of the Arts has a record-breaking weekend

Special to Gannett
Curtis Whitwam, Best in Show Festival of the Arts winner

DESTIN — Fine art welcomed a record-breaking 6,200-plus art lovers to the 26th annual Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation (MKAF) Festival of the Arts.

The two-day signature art celebration held Oct. 30-31 in the Mattie Kelly Cultural Arts Village in Destin featured exhibits of more than 110 premier artists from across the United States showcasing a diverse palette of artistic style. The weekend was brought to life thanks to ideal weather conditions and live music featuring six musicians and a cameo appearance by the Sinfonia Youth Orchestra, a kid's art corner, and more than seven local favorite food trucks and drink stations.

"We are thrilled at the response and support for the 26th MKAF Destin Festival of the Arts," said MKAF CEO Demetrius Fuller. "This year's success is a testament to how important the arts are for our community and a direct reflection of the 100-plus talented participating artists, musicians, food vendors, and most importantly, our incredible festival producer Deb Nissley,"

Guest judges recognized artists whose work reflected exceptional talent and craftsmanship, the judges awarded Best in Show, three Awards of Excellence, five Awards of Merit, and 10 Judges' Recognition Awards.

Best in Show artist Curtis Whitwam was born and raised in Tampa.

"I love to share the feeling of deep connection to nature through watercolor paintings and underwater videos that I create to inspire everyone to get outside and appreciate the beauty and abundance of wild Florida," Whitwam said. 

The Best in Show Adult winner of the Collaborative Art Exhibit was awarded to Ian Fagan. The Best in Show Student winner was Veronika Jacobson from Fort Walton Beach High School. The Collaborative Art Exhibit features adults and students competing for the Special McIlroy Awards in honor of the late Patricia McIlroy, Destin's First Lady, and an MKAF advocate and patron. 

Thanks to the generous support of 50 business partners, media sponsors, and a team of more than 100 volunteers, art lovers of all ages watched artists create works of art, browsed and purchased art from dozens of emerging and student artists, and engaged at the interactive children's art station.

Beyond the visual arts, the festival featured six music acts performing two days of continual live music and a sampling of the local culinary arts scene. Live blacksmithing demonstrations, entertaining street performers, and the sale of souvenirs set the tone for a family-friendly festival. 

Event proceeds help to fund MKAF's cultural season of events and community outreach programs serving populations of K-12 students and families, including children and adults with special needs, at-risk youth, and a wounded warrior initiative for our returning combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.