What do you get when you combine Key West’s reputation as a welcoming haven for artists with the city’s impulse to provide financial support to one another? You get the Anne McKee Artists Fund of the Florida Keys.

Launched in the early 1990’s by Anne McKee, a woman with no particular arts background but with an abiding interest in supporting creative individuals, the Anne McKee Artist Fund has awarded more than $130,000 to artists and writers in the Lower Keys.

If you are an artist or an art lover and you are unfamiliar with the Anne McKee Fund keep your eyes peeled because the cycle of fundraising and distribution is relatively short and it begins soon.

The cycle goes something like this:

At the beginning of each year money is raised at a gala event and live auction featuring the work of approximately 60-100 local artists. The deadline for artists to submit their work to the 2015 auction is January 1st, and not every submission is accepted due to space limitations at Fort East Martello so make sure your single entry is a stand out.

Those artists fortunate enough to have their work included in the auction will get exposure but they will benefit in another significant way.

As per the guiding principle of the Anne McKee Artists Fund the organization is keen to stress that artists are never asked to donate their pieces to be auctioned —- instead, each one receives 50 percent of the proceeds from the sale of his or her work, while the fund receives the remainder. This is huge. Typically an artist only receives a tax write off, many thanks and some publicity for their much sought after donations, none of which help pay the bills. Therefore, the McKee Fund’s 50/50 split is a welcome and notable shift in understanding that artists can’t and shouldn’t have to work for free.

The auction itself is a high point in the local arts calendar. For well over a dozen years in a row now the gala has drawn a full house. Art aficionado’s and collectors know that on this one night, a large measure of the cream of the Keys crop will be on display, all together, at what is one of the most popular, passionate and artsy parties of the year.

Once that event is over and the funds are tallied a call goes out to local artists to apply for a grant to help realize a project. That deadline is the end of March; between 10 and 20 grants of approximately $1,000 are awarded.

An Anne McKee grant is coveted by artists not only because the awarded money allows their vision to become a reality, but also because of the recognition and visibility that results.

Visit mckeefund.org to find out more about the auction, gala and grant.

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