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Mallory Square Moves Its Act To Before Sunset

Bob Krist
Florida Keys News Service

If Sunset Celebration takes place all day long, will anybody show up?

That's the question that a group of artists and performers will pose under a new five-year contract that allows them to set up an "artisan fair" at Mallory Square starting at 10 a.m. on days when cruise ships call on Key West.

Until now, the Sunset Celebration took place two hours before and two hours after the sun sets into the Gulf of Mexico. Performers including a tightrope walker and an escape artist draw crowds, while local artists sell them handmade wares including clothing and jewelry. The artists are all juried and must prove they make the works themselves.

"Mallory Pier is a wasteland during the day. Something needed to happen with it," said Susan Schaal, who serves on the board of directors of the Cultural Preservation Society, the group of artists that organizes the daily event.

"Either we were going to do it or the city was going to find another use for it during the daylight hours," Schaal said. "So we opted for the opportunity to create something ourselves."

The Key West City Commission approved the new contract Tuesday despite objections from neighboring merchants who pay property taxes to the city.

"We feel that this is in direct competition to other businesses in that immediate area," said real estate broker Peter Batty, speaking on behalf of Clinton Square Market, a shopping center in a historic building alongside Mallory Square.

The artists who sell their work at Mallory include seasonal residents, those just starting out and some who have been there for decades. Schaal said she hopes the expanded hours will help expand the roster.

"My hope is that a good many of the people that are on Duval Street and struggling to make it there will decide to jury into Mallory and be a part of our little arts community, she said.