Exploring Islamorada’s Arts Scene

by Lesley Peterson

On Islamorada, visitors can watch the sun rise over the Atlantic on the island’s east coast and celebrate violet-streaked sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico just a few hundred metres west. With brilliant tropical beauty above water, teeming sea life below and the extraordinary light quality found in the Florida Keys, it’s no surprise that Islamorada is home to a growing community of artists and galleries.

The junction of Old Highway and Morada Way is Islamorada’s cultural heart, home to the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District. This not-for-profit, grassroots organization thrives with the dedication of volunteers and the support of local businesses. Rent a classic Keys cottage, enjoy a cracked conch breakfast or patronize a we-cook-your-catch eatery displaying the Morada Way Arts plaque and you’ll be supporting local cultural programming.


Credit: Lesley Peterson

The District’s popular Third Thursday Walkabout evenings take place each month, offering a fun mix of art, music and food. The event is centred around Morada Way, where several art galleries and studios occupy former industrial buildings.

Representing more than 200 craftspeople, Gallery Morada is a Top 10 Retailer of Fine American Craft and a founding member of the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District. In keeping with Islamorada’s reputation as sportfishing capital of the world, much of the work on display at Gallery Morada, Matecumbe Studio Gallery, Redbone Gallery, Bluewater Potters and the gallery studio of Roberto ‘Pasta’ Pantaleo is fishy, indeed.

Architecture buffs will want to check out Pasta’s building as well as his dynamic paintings. His gallery occupies one of the houses constructed after the historic hurricane of 1935. Built by the Red Cross for returning families, the now-prized homes feature saltwater concrete walls and Dade County pine floors.


Credit: Lesley Peterson

Just up the road, Rain Barrel Artisans Village offers everything from fine art to crafty kitsch in a leafy garden setting. Rain Barrel’s maze of working studios and little shops are a trove of paintings, pottery, jewellery, stained glass and local food specialties like mango ketchup and key lime marinade. Refreshment options on site include fresh coconut water straight from the coconut, whacked open with a machete to order. Rain Barrel is a roadside attraction, too; look for the giant spiny lobster statue at mile marker 86.7.

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