Congrats, Festival of the Arts Winners!

On a sunny fall weekend, the Emerald Coast arts scene sparkled a little brighter as 31 local and regional artists who ventured to the Northwest Florida Gulf Coast to exhibit in the 22nd annual Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation Festival of the Arts were awarded $10,000 in cash art prize awards honors.


The two-day signature art celebration, held on Halloweekend in the Mattie Kelly Cultural Arts Village in Destin, featured exhibits of more than 200 artists from across the United States and Europe showcasing a diverse palette of artistic styles.


“We were thrilled to see 38 new artists join us for this year’s annual Festival of the Arts,” said Deb Nissley, artist market chair and festival co-producer. “We are vigilant about ensuring the festival includes quality artists and a variety of artistic styles and mediums, and I think this 22nd anniversary year’s diverse range of winners reflects that.”


Guest judges Claudia O’Steen, post-doctoral fellow at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, and Ann Kozeliski, art director of the Lemoyne Center for the Visual Arts in Tallahassee, awarded 26 ribbons that each included a cash prize. One Best in Show, three Awards of Excellence, five Awards of Merit and 10 Judges’ Recognition Awards were given to artists whose work reflected exceptional talent and craftsmanship. Seven winners participated in the Collaborative Exhibit, which featured emerging adult artists and local student artists.


Festivalgoers deemed sculptor Jordan Aucoin of Miramar Beach the 2017 winner of the People’s Choice Artist Award. His vibrantly painted seabird sculptures had art lovers flocking to his tent.


Husband-wife art duo Tony and Vivian Zack, whose whimsical mixed media mermaid piece “Can’t Catch Me” graced the official poster, t-shirt and festival guide, were first-time winners in the 2017 Poster Art Contest.


The Best in Show winner in the Collaborative Art Exhibit was awarded to John Groah of Destin for his piece “Shrimp Basket.” The Collaborative Art Exhibit featured 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.


MKAF will begin accepting artist and poster entry applications for the 2018 Festival of the Arts in February 2018. The event is set for Oct. 27 and 28, 2018.


Here is the complete list of winners.


BEST IN SHOW – $1,600

Jeannie Maddox, Dothan, Alabama (Oil)



Jordan Aucoin, Miramar Beach (Sculpture)



Christon Anderson, Panama City (Mixed Media)

Thomas Radca, Port Washington, Ohio (Clay)

Gary Worthington, Destin (Mixed Media)



Michael Fagan, Pensacola (Mixed Media)

Paul Hofrenning, Minneapolis, Minnesota (Pottery)

Lesha Porche, Niceville (Watercolor)

Ricky Steele, Panama City (Acrylic)

Sherrie Venghaus, Niceville (Jewelry)



Francisco Adaro, Freeport (Mixed Media)

Wendy Edwards and Kay Bonnell, Foley, Alabama (Jewelry)

Brooke Gontarek, Freeport (Photography)

Mitchell W. Landry, Crown Point, Louisiana (Metal)

Jitka Lesakova-Manousakis, Tallahassee (Fiber)

Connie Nabholz, Lynn Haven (Jewelry)

Don Nedobeck, Deland, Florida (Painting)

Kelly Pierre, Santa Rosa Beach (Oil and Acrylic)

Roger and Renae Poer, Sylvan Springs, Alabama (Jewelry)

Hannah Spiegleman, Panama City (Acryic and Gouache)



Tony and Vivian Zack, Destin (Mixed Media)



Best in Show – $250

John Groah, Destin, “Shrimp Basket”


Adult First Place – $100

Kathleen Simpson, “Reeds at Inlet, NY”


Adult Second Place – $75

Marie Jackson, “Fishing Boats”


Adult Third Place – $50

Patricia Sweet-McDonald, “Setting Sun”


Student First Place – $100

Giovanni Caballero, Choctawhatchee High School


Student Second Place – $75

Angela DeJesus, Fort Walton Beach High School


Student Third Place – $50

Kyzer Schilling, South Walton High School


Thousands of art lovers attended the festival. Thanks to the generous support of local business and media sponsors and a team of more than 100 volunteers, art lovers of all ages watched artists create works of art before their eyes, browsed art from dozens of emerging new and student artists, and enjoyed hands-on fun in the interactive children’s art station.


Beyond the visual arts, the festival featured six musical acts performing two days of continual live music, plus a sampling of the local culinary arts scene. Entertaining street performers, lively art drawings and the sale of colorful keepsake souvenirs all created a family-friendly festival feel.


Event proceeds help to fund MKAF’s cultural season of events and arts education outreach programs.


For more information on how you can become a member of MKAF, provide a donation or explore opportunities to get involved, call 850-650-2226 or visit

Zandra Wolfgram
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