Key West Art & Historical Society Museums Free for Monroe County Students


Seward Johnson’s larger-than-life rendition of Pierre Auguste Renoir’s Dance in the Country flanks the historic Custom House Museum. Photo: Todd Feit

When most people think of history, they don’t often look to the future. But that’s exactly what Key West Art & Historical Society, one of the Florida Keys’ oldest not-for-profits and steward to The Lighthouse Museum, Fort East Martello and Custom House Museum, has in mind.

With a mission to promote and preserve the island’s arts and historical and cultural heritage, they are turning their sights towards the students of Monroe County. By supporting children in grades K-12, they hope to empower these students to take ownership of their island community’s history to inspire the next generation of Hemingway’s, Mario Sanchez’s and Suzie dePoo’s.

One simple way they currently do this is by allowing all Monroe County students free admission to their Custom House,  Lighthouse Keepers and Quarters, and Fort East Martello museums. 

Most obvious of the museums is the red brick, four-story building that towers over Mallory’s historic seaport – the original home to the island’s customs office, postal service and district courts. The museum now holds two floors of exhibitions that weave together two centuries of history, art, people, and events of the Florida Keys.

“If a student came to the Custom House Museum today, they would learn about Henry Flagler and how he brought the railroad down the Keys,” says Christine Nottage, Key West Art & Historical Society’s Development Director. “They’ll see the unique architecture of the Florida Keys recreated through our Ronny Bailey exhibit, and how Suzie dePoo and the Key West Handprint Factory became one of the most recognized industries in Key West during the late 20th Century.”

At 47 feet tall, the nearly two hundred year old lighthouse offers the only unobstructed view of the island where one can see various historical landmarks of the island as detailed by The Society’s written guides. The Keepers Quarters offer exhibitions telling the story of the Keepers who kept the light burning, complete with historic furniture, artifacts, and photographs of the culture and history of early Key West.

Fort East Martello offers students a peek into the Civil War, and also opportunities to learn about the wrecking and cigar-manufacturing industries which shaped the Florida Keys as well as view the unique and imaginative metal sculptures of Stanley Papio.

Students do not need to worry about having Id or proof of school.

“Just tell us what school you go to,” says Nottage.  “Ultimately, our goal is to have every student that walks through our doors be free, no matter where they’re from. We are developing a plan to support funding for this initiative.”

Former Democratic House Minority Leader of the Florida House of Representatives Ron Saunders and Key West City Commissioner Clayton Lopez show us their text in their support of Key West Art & Historical Society for the Knight Arts Challenge.

Former Democratic House Minority Leader of the Florida House of Representatives Ron Saunders and Key West City Commissioner Clayton Lopez show us their text in their support of Key West Art & Historical Society for the Knight Arts Challenge. Photo: Carol Tedesco

Their current focus is an educational outreach initiative that not only brings the classrooms to the museums but the museums into the classrooms. It is the impetus for their recent “Show us your text”  campaign that is sweeping the Keys, which they hope will help boost the community’s response to the Knight Arts Challenge People’s Choice Award Competition to help fund the education program.

The Challenge, which started October 20 and runs until November 17, will garner the organization $ 20, 000 for their educational initiative if they win.  To win, The Society must bring in the highest number of votes — with votes submitted by text message. Key West Art and Historical Society’s individual code is VOTE4 to 22333.  Those outside of the US can dial 747-444-3548 toll-free.  Key West Art & Historical Society is one of six South Florida organizations competing for the prestigious award.  They are the sole 2014 Florida Keys-based award nominee.

The Knight Arts Challenge People’s Choice Award, presented in partnership with the Miami New Times, invests in artistic excellence by funding arts projects that engage Knight resident communities in collective cultural experiences. Each People’s Choice Award nominee began as one of 75 finalists in the 2014 Knight Arts Challenge, a competition that rewards the best and most innovative ideas for the arts.

The Key West Art and Historical Society is asking the community to take a minute to text VOTE4 to 22333 and help promote and preserve our island’s arts, historical and cultural heritage. Voting will remain open through 11:59 p.m. Monday Nov. 17. Winners will be announced December 2.

For more information, call Christine Nottage, Development Director at 305-295-6616 ext 111.  Your Museums. Your community. It takes an island.