Festivals / News

Cedar Key Art Festival, April 8 – 9, 2017: Small town festival; big-time art

The ladies of the Lioness Club sell home-made crab cakes. The Cedar Key Garden Club sells fresh-squeezed lemonade. The Cedar Key Future Farmers of America will sell fresh-fried grouper.

That’s the sort of place Cedar Key is, and the result is the Cedar Key Art Festival, April 8 – 9, 2017, is not your cookie-cutter commercial art fair, filled with the same old food vendors and the same old bad art.

Cedar Key art festival

Historic 2nd Street during the 2010 Cedar Key art festival. Photo by Michelle Pearson

Cedar Key Garden Club lemonade booth in City Park

Cedar Key Garden Club lemonade booth in City Park. Photos by Michelle Pearson.

Kayaking along the shore on Cedar Key

Kayaking behind Dock Street on Cedar Key. Photo by Kellie Parkin.

Sailing near Cedar Key

Sailing near Cedar Key. Photo by Kellie Parkin

Officially called the Old Florida Celebration of the Arts, the Cedar Key Art Festival is one of the oldest art fairs in Florida. It’s a juried fine art fair, which means it attracts 120 serious artists vying for $16,000 in prize money. The fair has a great reputation — ArtFairCalendar.com named it one of the top 50 juried art festivals in America and more than 200 artists applied to participate this year.

Artists demonstrations will be take place booth afternoons from 1-4 pm. See the Cedar Key festival website  for a list of artists and demo artists

Like Cedar Key itself, the Cedar Key Art Festival is a slice of authentic Old Florida. This historic small town is located on an island on Florida’s Gulf coast, about 60 miles west of Ocala. It’s not near any city, and that is part of what has preserved its small-town flavor and historic buildings.

Cedar Key is worth a visit any weekend — it’s especially great for kayaking and its beaches. Here’s a brief guide to visiting Cedar Key and a look at its history.

The Cedar Key Art Festival is free. Booths for the 120 artists line the quaint historic main street. At the beach-front city park, only local non-profit vendors are allowed to sell food. As a result, little old church ladies, high school kids and the town’s leaders are all there selling foods you won’t find anywhere else.

The seafood is especially worth trying, because Cedar Key is the east coast’s biggest producer of clams. As a result, you’ll find fresh Cedar Key clams for sale by the clam association and oysters by the oyster association.

2016 Winner of the Design Contest for the 52nd Annual Cedar Key Art Festival Old Florida Celebration of the Arts by artist Diana Tonnessen.

2016 Winner of the
Design Contest for the 52nd Annual
Cedar Key Art Festival
Old Florida Celebration of the Arts by artist Diana Tonnessen.

On D Street in the historic “downtown” — it’s really just three blocks long — you can sample the best clam chowder in the world. I do not say that lightly: For the last three years, the clam chowder served at Tony’s Seafood Restaurant at Second and D street has won first place in the Great Chowder Cookoff in New Port, Rhode Island — the World Cup of chowder. Tony’s offers samples to all comers at the art festival, and there is always a line.

While visiting the Cedar Key Art Festival, you can rent a kayak from Kayak Cedar Keys outfitter Tom “Tomyakker” Leibert right from the beach.

An outstanding kayak destination is Atsena Otie, a half mile away. Atsena Otie Key is an island that was home to the original town built in the Cedar Keys, a cluster of small islands. Its main business was a pencil-wood factory and, in the 1890s, it had several hundred residents. That ended when the hurricane of 1896 and a 10-foot storm surge flattened the town.

Today, the historic island of Atsena Otie Key is managed by the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge. You can see the old cemetery and the main street is now a path through the woods under a canopy of oaks.

Tony Krysinsky's engraved wood painting entitled, "Honeymoon Cottage 1959," was chosen as the 2014 Design Contest Winner for the 2014 Old Florida Celebration of the Arts. The Honeymoon Cottage was originally known as the Thomas Guest House. Built in 1958 as a get-away for the Thomas Family of Gainesville. Time and mother nature have taken their toll on this iconic structure which sits in the Gulf just off 1st Street in Cedar Key.

Tony Krysinsky’s engraved wood painting entitled, “Honeymoon Cottage 1959,” was chosen as the 2014 Design Contest Winner for the 2014 Old Florida Celebration of the Arts. The Honeymoon Cottage was originally known as the Thomas Guest House. Built in 1958 as a get-away for the Thomas Family of Gainesville. Time and mother nature have taken their toll on this iconic structure which sits in the Gulf just off 1st Street in Cedar Key.

If you paddle around the island, it’s a 1.5 mile trip. More ambitious paddlers can go on to other nearby islands. Kayak outfitter Tom Leibert says all of the other islands have nice beaches, though their interiors are off-limits as part of the Cedar Keys NWR. He provides a detailed map and recommendations on kayak outings, including Seahorse Key with an historic lighthouse. The birding in the Cedar Keys is exceptional; Leibert says every island has an eagle nest.

Tips for visiting the Cedar Key Art Festival

  • Hotels sell out quickly, but there are always cancellations. For accommodations, call the Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce, which keeps a list of who has a room. The number is 352-543-5600.
  • A good option — one popular with the visiting artists — are two camping and RV parks about six miles outside of town. At Rainbow Country RV Campground, tent camping is $23 and no reservation is required. RV hookups are $23 to $24 and reservations are recommended. The new Cedar Key RV Resort is $30 a night and includes resort amenities such as a swimming pool.
  • Be patient with traffic and parking. This is a small town with a lot of visitors for art festival weekend. Visitors park along the town’s streets and if the festival is a big success, you’ll walk four or five blocks through town to reach it.

Resources for your Cedar Key visit:

More things to do in Cedar Key:

Tags: ,

10 Comments

  1. R Bennett says:

    Congrats to the leadership of Cedar Key for keeping the airport open during their events. Places like Jekyll Island close the airport for overflow parking during the shrimp and grits festival. Many private pilots enjoy the short flight over to George Lewis Field and a quick cab ride to town to enjoy the Art and Seafood Festivals.

  2. Nancy Passerini says:

    Are there any accommodations for the elderly to get down to the festival from parking?

  3. Great article! Another often overlooked aspect of Cedar Key is the birdwatching. You don’t need to be experienced or go tromping through the weeds – the birds are very accessible and will provide plenty of entertainment. Some of the best entertainment in Cedar Key is on the big dock on Dock Street. Watch the fisherpersons bring in a fish and the crowd of helpful pelicans and egrets that will descend to assist you with your catch!

  4. Read and enjoy the articles on Cedar Key and other stops around the world. http://www.worldtravelbyglenn/com

  5. Bonnie Georgiadis says:

    Cedar Key is noted for many things but besides clams, I love the swamp cabbage salad. The best to be found is in Cedar Key.

  6. Laura Matson Hahn says:

    This is such a great article with so many additional benefits for the “rambler”. As the newly appointed Festival Coordinator, I’m delighted to see such exciting and accurate press! See you next April, I hope.

  7. Pingback: Cedar Key: Best small town in Florida? | Florida Rambler

  8. by far one of the neatest places to visit and enjoy,great place to relax.

  9. One thing most articles overlook is that fact that there are great artist co-ops in Cedar Key year around. The Cedar Keyhole Artist Co-op and Island Arts are two of the best,with unbelievable low prices on original and one-of-a-kind artwork. We are all open during the festivals but if you like art shows, there is an “art show everyday at the artist’s co-ops.”

    • Donna,

      So glad you added that comment. I focused so much on the festival and the kayaking that I failed to mention a key fact: Cedar Key isn’t about art only during art festival weekend. It’s a town full of artists, where you can see and enjoy art on any visit.

Share your thoughts!

%d bloggers like this: