No matter how many mojitos you might have had during former Key West Fantasy Fests, the spectacle of colorfully-costumed people and the steady stream of looming, Mardi-Gras-like floats cannot be easily forgotten. But how much do you actually know about this world-renowned island festival and some of the very important people within it? Carouse your way over to the Custom House Museum and join the Key West Art & Historical Society in celebrating Fantasy Fest with Fantasy Island: A History of Fantasy Fest, an exhibition that spotlights the festival’s history and pays homage to the altruism that provides integral funds for AIDS Help, and Royal Retrospective: A Look Back at the Kings & Queens of Fantasy Fest, a special, all-candidate AIDS Help fundraiser celebration to take place Thursday, October 20th from 6pm-8pm.
Here are a few fun facts to help to help get the Royal Retrospective party started:
1. Flashback: Cue the Tumble(sea)weeds. Prior to 1979, if you stood on the intersection of Front and Duval Streets during what is now Fantasy Fest week, it resembled a ghost town. Joe Liskza, the then-President of the Tourist Development Association had a simple idea that boomed into what is now the busiest, most lucrative week for the island: an adult extravaganza of creative costuming, parades, libations and excitement.
2. The Naked Truth Behind the Altruism. Amid more than 50,000 painted and costumed party-goers that revel in Key West’s streets, bars, and restaurants is one very altruistic Fantasy Fest King and Queen couple, crowned for raising awareness and much-needed funds for AIDS Help, Key West. “Candidates and their team of volunteers spend over 8 weeks of their lives being ambassadors to AIDS Help,” says Scott Prigden, Executive Director of AIDS Help, Key West. It’s a jam-packed two months of collaborating with local businesses to create and host special events in order to generate the candidate’s personal message— and money that provides treatments, housing, prevention, and research for those in need in our community.
3. A Multi-Million Dollar Idea. Since 1989, AIDS Help, Key West has facilitated this very important community fundraiser, selecting candidates dedicated to the cause. In the 27 years of Fantasy Fest campaigns, candidates have raised more than 4 million dollars dedicated to AIDS Help, Key West. $4,225,315 to be exact. See a tally of each year’s fundraising efforts at the Fantasy Island exhibit at the Custom House and Royal Retrospective: A Look Back at the Kings & Queens of Fantasy Fest.
4. Renegade Creativity. Before a Queen or King candidate can even be considered, they must first raise 2 thousand dollars to show their commitment, which they can then use for their campaign. The koozies, t-shirts, bracelets, buttons, baubles, hats, fans, bumper stickers and other accoutrements that get their message out are all showcased in the Fantasy Island: A History of Fantasy Fest exhibit including other creative items likeornate sequined capes, and three quilts made entirely from former Fantasy Fest t-shirts as sewn by exhibit co-curator Dennis Beaver’s mother, Maxine Wheelan. (A fourth- two t-shirts away from being finished- will make its appearance next year).
5. Where are you, 1981? The Fantasy Island: A History of Fantasy Fest exhibit also showcases a poster from every Fantasy Fest, lining the entire perimeter of the Custom House’s Bryan Gallery. Missing is 1981, themed “Va Va Voom” from Co-curator Dennis Beaver’s collection. Contact Key West Art & Historical Society Curator Cori Convertito, PhD if you have one you’re willing to let go or sell -or know where one is- and make the collection complete!
A Royal Restrospective: a Look Back at the Kings & Queens of Fantasy Fest aims to be “a reunion of sorts” says Convertito, and encourages former kings and queens to join in on the all-candidate AIDS Help fundraiser celebration featuring the exhibit, a cash bar, and appetizers. The Fantasy Island exhibit runs October 7th – 30th. For more information, visit KWAHS.ORG or contact curator Cori Convertito, PhD at 305.295.6616 x112. Your Museums. Your Community. It takes an Island.