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In the News


April 20, 2018

Our Story

When the $25 million fine and performing arts complex at Northwest Florida State College was under construction, the eyes of the community were focused primarily on the centerpiece of the more than 116,000 square foot facility — the 10-story high Mainstage Theater — which promised to attract nationally touring shows as well as other cultural offerings to the Emerald Coast.

More than twenty years later, the non-profit Mattie Kelly Fine and Performing Arts Center is nearing 2 million patrons who’ve enjoyed hit Broadway shows, touring art exhibits, college theatrical productions, symphony and ballet concerts, and an array of entertainment featuring everyone from Crystal Gayle to Celtic Woman and Jerry Seinfeld to Ed Asner.

Our History

By the Numbers

  • May 7, 1994

    First event to launch the Arts Center endowment — Ben Vereen performs a fundraising benefit at Sandestin

  • October 1995

    Art and Music Wings construction completed (instructional Facilities, Art Galleries and Tyler Recital Hall)

  • January 1996

    First college classes held in Music & Art Wings

  • December 1996

    Theater Wing completed (Mainstage Theater & Sprint Theater, Frances Smith Herron Dance Studio, Seven Dancers Sculpture Garden/Entrance)

  • January 1997

    Northwest Florida Symphony Orchestra Concert gives the first performance in the Mainstage Theater

  • March 2, 1997

    First National Touring event in Mainstage Theater — Ben Vereen returns and performs a concert of Broadway music with Leslie Uggams

The History of Mattie Kelly

Back in 1935, the Kelly family settled into the local area and would come to be known as one of Destin’s founding families, known in business circles for their turpentine facility. Even then, at the age of 23, upon moving here with her husband and five children, Mattie Kelly had a genuine passion for the arts.  She found a way to cultivate that passion in later years by taking various classes through the Okaloosa Walton Community College (former name of NWF State College) in humanities, painting and drawing.  She became somewhat of an artist herself.  Even though it was a merely a hobby for her, she enjoyed showing her artistic talents.

She attended all college performances when they were located in the gymnasium, to include summer musicals, student ensemble groups and of course the Northwest Florida Symphony Orchestra.  She never missed a concert under the direction of the Maestro John Leatherwood.

Mattie’s relationship with the college began under the presidency of Dr. McCracken and after his retirement, Dr. James R. Richburg carried on the friendship of this arts matriarch for the region.

Her passion extended beyond the arts, however, as Mattie also cared deeply for her surroundings.  It is her legacy, which allows the Mattie Kelly Environmental Institute to continue its research and educate the community, enriching the lives of so many in our area.

Through her generous contributions, Mattie Kelly sowed many seeds, which would prove invaluable to a future generation who could not thank her personally. In recognition of this, the Foundation and Board of Trustees rewarded her posthumously by naming the arts center at Okaloosa Walton Community College the Mattie Kelly Performing Arts Center.

Today, the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation, located in Destin, Florida is an independent not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization. We work closely with this group in our joint quest to promote cultural arts along Northwest Florida’s Emerald Coast.

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