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Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation Awards $10,000 to 29 Artists in the 27th Annual Festival of the Arts

The 27th Annual Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation (MKAF) Festival of the Arts, held Oct. 29 and 30, in the Mattie Kelly Cultural Arts Village in Destin, Florida, featured exhibits of more than 100 artists from across the United States showcasing a diverse palette of artistic styles in nearly 20 different art mediums.  Highlights of the cultural weekend celebrating art, music, food, and family fun featured six live music appearances, a kid's creative corner, pop-up photo booths, street performers, and more than seven local favorite food trucks and beverage bars.

"Marking 27 years is a testament to how important the arts are to our community and a direct reflection of the talented participating artists, musicians, food vendors, board members, and volunteers — all beautifully managed by our incredible festival producer Deb Nissley," said MKAF CEO Demetrius Fuller. 

Guest judges Anna Killian Cavnar, artist and adjunct faculty member at Pensacola State College, and Dan Taylor, artist and art advocate of Tallahassee, Florida, were awarded 29 ribbons and cash prizes. Recognizing artists whose work reflected exceptional talent and craftsmanship, the judges were awarded "Best in Show," three Awards of Excellence, five Awards of Merit, and 10 Judges' Recognition Awards.

Best in Show artist Curtis Whitwam (see photo) was born and raised in Tampa, Florida. Whitman, a two-time Festival of the Arts winner, expresses his love for waterways and wildlife, "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," Whitman said. 

The Best in Show adult winner of the Collaborative Art Exhibit was awarded to Julie Miles Gaffney of Santa Rosa Beach, Florida for her patriotic mixed media piece. The Best in Show student winner was Rayna Lowery 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. 

Artists honored as follows:
Best in Show Winner ($2,000) 
Curtis Whitwam, Tampa, Fla. – Watercolor 

Award of Excellence Winners ($850) 
Valerie Walchek, Ocoee, Fla. – Ceramics
Michael Fagan, Pensacola, Fla. – Mixed Media
Phillip Fiuza Lima, Marietta, Ga. – Wood 

Award of Merit Winners ($450)
Roger & Renae Poer, Sylvan Springs, Ala. – Jewelry
Paul Shampine, Port St. Lucie, Fla. – Mixed Media 
Marise Fransolino, Marietta, Ga. – Pottery
Kelly Rysavy, Tallahassee, Fla. – Oil
Ancizar Marin, Pembroke Pines, Fla. – Sculpture

Judge's Recognition Award Winners ($250)
Jeremy Serna, Brownwood, Texas – Watercolor 
Wanda Azzario-Goldberg, Gulf Breeze, Fla. – Mixed Media 
Karron Troil, Robertsdale, Ala. – Acrylic
Craig McMillin, Folsom, La. – Ceramics
Roger Disney, Tulsa, Oka. – Oil
Diane Perry, The Villages, Fla. – Fiber
Dorothy Starbuck, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. – Oil
Kristine Senft, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. – Mixed Media
Jason Stoddard, Scottsboro, Ala. – Jewelry
Robin Holt, Tallahassee, Fla. – Jewelry

People's Choice Award ($1,000)
Jeff Waldorff, Navarre, Fla. – Photography

Poster Art Contest Winner Justin Gaffrey, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. – Mixed Media 

Collaborative Exhibit Winners ($850)
Best in Show (Adult) – Julie Miles Gaffney, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. – Mixed Media
First Place (Adult) – Autumn Johnson, Freeport, Fla. – Mixed Media
Second Place (Adult) – Don David, Destin, Fla .– Pen & Ink
Third Place (Adult) – Sharon Dooley, Niceville, Fla. – Fiber

Best in Show (Student) – Rayna Lowery – Fort Walton Beach High School
First Place (Student) – Eliana Batarao – Fort Walton Beach High School
Second Place (Student) – Grace Bostick – Crestview High School
Third Place (Student) – Clara Collins – Destin High School

"This year's festival included a wide array of amazing artists from all over the United States including 37 new artists! We were truly honored to be able to present them and they were absolutely thrilled at the incredible support from our community,” said MKAF director of operations and Festival producer Deb Nissley.

Proceeds will fund the MKAF’s community outreach mission to provide cultural outreach programs serving K-12 students, adults, and children with special needs, at-risk youth, and active/veteran military recovering from visible and invisible injuries in our community.

MKAF will begin accepting artist and poster entry applications for the 28th Annual Festival of the Arts in February 2023. The 2023 MKAF Annual Festival of the Arts is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 28, and Sunday, Oct. 29.

To make a tax-deductible donation or provide a corporate sponsorship; or for more information about becoming a MKAF member, visit or call (850) 650-2226. 

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