Novelist Ernest Hemingway made the Florida Keys famous as a home for artists when he came over from Cuba in 1929. Not long after that, the federal government put local artists to work painting murals as a form of relief from the Great Depression. Even before that, wildlife painter John James Audubon visited the Keys to chronicle its bird life. And in his memoirs years later, playwright Tennessee Williams declared he could have written anywhere, but “surely the best was in the studio in Key West.”
Each of these artists added to the culture of the Florida Keys, but perhaps more importantly, they also came here because of it. Hemingway loved the largely-black Bahamian section of town, where he reportedly recruited paid-boxing partners. One of them was Shine Forbes, who until his death in February 2000 loved to sit on his front porch and tell visitors about his exploits with Hemingway
Even now, decades later, you can stroll through Bahama Village and see the tiny homes that Hemingway had to know stood in stark contrast to his nearby Whitehead Street mansion. Take to the water and you can catch the same types of fish Hemingway caught and see the smuggling hideouts he spoke of in his rum-running-tale “To Have and Have Not.” Back on dry land, you can meet relatives of the same Key West Conchs who inspired Hemingway’s story of rich and poor.
You will discover that the Florida Keys are rich in history but that their culture is very much alive.
Today, our islands continue to draw artists not just for the beautiful sunsets and warm waters, but for the people and their way of life. Eighty-four galleries, a dozen museums and six theaters dot the islands of the Florida Keys. You can take in a literary seminar or poetry reading or maybe a book signing.
A local group, the Monroe Council of the Arts, works tirelessly to tie our cultural community together and is a wonderful source of information