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Beyond the Beach: Catch the Artsy Vibes of Okaloosa County

Dive into Greater Fort Walton Beach's vibrant arts and culture scene.

By Livability on December 30, 2022

The Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation is involved in outdoor performances and an array of fun arts activities.
Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation

Okaloosa County is part of the Emerald Coast, which is known for its bright, white sandy beaches. While visitors come to this resort town for the sun, sand and waves, Greater Fort Walton Beach artists want to make sure you don’t miss out on the region’s thriving arts and culture scene.

Originally from nearby Destin, Maxine Orange is the newly appointed vice chair of the Fort Walton Beach Cultural Arts League, a community organization supported by the City of Fort Walton Beach that strives to unify the artistic community by fostering art appreciation and education.

She is also the owner of Maxine Orange Gallery, an artistic hub for the creative community. “I am really interested in helping the Fort Walton Beach arts and culture scene really grow,” Orange says. “It’s got a lot of potential.”

Orange considers her gallery an “anti-beach gallery” because she feels like there’s an abundance of beach-related art in the area. At the Maxine Orange Gallery, you’ll find a large variety of contemporary art that showcases the region as more than just a beach.

Besides her gallery, Orange recommends visiting Artesano Boutique located in downtown Fort Walton Beach, which features handmade gift s from over 50 local and regional artists. On the first Friday of April, May and June, and again in September, October and November, artisans from across the region make an appearance at the Downtown Fort Walton Beach Art Walk to showcase their craft.

Spend the day perusing great shops in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.

“Fort Walton is really up and coming, a cool city with a hip little downtown.”

Maxine Orange

Uniting Local Artists

Orange has been part of the Greater Fort Walton Beach arts scene for more than 10 years. She’s watched it flourish and has been an integral part of its growth over the years.

Always one to unite local artists for a good cause, Orange is assisting the Fort Walton Beach Cultural Arts League on a project called Erase the Trace Okaloosa, a storm drains mural project that promotes keeping local waterways clean.

“There’s going to be around 12 different storm drains around downtown that are painted with this cool artwork,” she says. “It’s going to add a lot to downtown, drawing people to local businesses and making the area more Instagram-friendly for people to take photos and share online.”

Music to Your Ears

If music is more your thing, consider taking in a concert. The Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation, based in Destin, hosts The Concerts in the Village, a spring and summer outdoor concert series. The not-for-profit organization also hosts outdoor movies, where people are welcome to bring their own wine and picnic baskets, as well as annual events like the Festival of the Arts.

Also in Destin, HarborWalk Village hosts events such as the HarborWalk Village Arts & Drafts, an evening filled with music, beer samplings and local artisans, as well as annual holiday festivities like a holiday boat parade, with music, fireworks and holiday cheer.

Since 2001, the Musical Echoes Flute Festival has been educating and sharing the region’s Native American culture, with authentic performances, arts and crafts, food, and so much more. The festival is already making plans for 2023, and it is set to return on April 21-23.

Art, music and culture collide in Greater Fort Walton Beach, creating a vibrant place full of artists and their advocates, who are willing and ready to showcase all the region has to offer.

Demetrius Fuller conducts the Sinfonia Gulf Coast orchestra.
Kay Phelan Photography

Meet the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation CEO

Demetrius Fuller is the CEO of the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation in Destin, one of the area’s leading not-for-profit arts organizations. Fuller, who stepped into the role of CEO in 2020, is also the music and artistic director of Sinfonia Gulf Coast. Livability sat down with Fuller to talk about his more than 15-year tenure, and how he feels he has “redefined the cultural and arts education landscape of Northwest Florida.”

Demetrius Fuller is the CEO of the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation in Destin, Florida.

Demetrius Fuller
Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation

What was the local arts and cultural landscape like before you took the role of music and artistic director of Sinfonia Gulf Coast?
Our first season was in 2006. Up to then, the region had been known for events like Cultural Arts Alliance’s ArtsQuest Fine Arts Festival and the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation’s Festival of the Arts. But other than that, there was not a whole lot of performing arts in the area.

Looking back, recall some of your biggest career accomplishments.
I founded Sinfonia Gulf Coast, and we are in our 17th year. It was our goal to give the region its own true, fully professional symphony with the full gamut of symphony concerts, chamber music, pops, gala events, cabaret events and, most importantly, education events that really dig into the education landscape of both Okaloosa and Walton counties to help fill the cultural void in the schools.

What are some current programs you’re most excited about?
We truly have something for everyone across the board. If you don’t want to go to a Mattie Kelly Concert in the Village or a Sinfonia event, you can go to the Festival of the Arts or an Artful Dining event or Fall Flicks. There’s a wide range.

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