By Jodi Mailander Farrell
Delray Beach art expresses itself in many forms.
Fresh off her 2011 appearance on TV’s “Project Runway,” with her House of Perna dubbed an “emerging brand” by Women’s Wear Daily, the young clothing designer Amanda Perna could have opened her first studio in New York, Los Angeles or any other big city.
The rising fashion star chose Delray Beach.
“I looked around and knew this was the place,” says Perna, 29, who opened her fashion atelier in 2014 in a 21-studio warehouse colony of artists called Artists Alley on the edge of Delray Beach’s Pineapple Grove Arts District.
Known for her breezy, silk “jet setter pants” and bubblegum-colored, chiffon dresses, Perna was drawn to Delray Beach’s artist-friendly atmosphere.
She was hardly the first to discover the charms of this small, sophisticated beach town. A two-time winner of the National Civic League’s coveted All-America City award, Delray Beach was named “Most Fun Small Town in the USA” by Rand McNally, USA Today and the Travel Channel in a nationally-televised special in 2012.
Despite all the attention, Delray manages to feel like a hidden treasure when you roll off of Interstate 95 and come upon its bustling, low-slung downtown, where historic buildings have been repurposed into cafes, boutiques and Delray Beach's art galleries. Progress here is measured in the number of artists who call it home, not the height of modern skyscrapers.
Delray Beach Art Galleries & More
In the past decade, fostered by thoughtful zoning and artful initiative, Delray Beach has blossomed into a thriving cultural hot spot on the South Florida coast. Midway between Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, downtown Delray now claims more than 80 restaurants and shops. Atlantic Avenue, the town’s main thoroughfare, is lined with fashionable clothing stores, live music venues, outdoor dining and the occasional water bowl for dogs set out by shopkeepers along the pedestrian-friendly drag that dead-ends into the Atlantic Ocean.
Art Walk, held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the first Friday of every month, is the best way to explore Delray Beach's art galleries and studios at once, but the year-round presence of museums, theaters and artsy clubs means there’s never a dull moment.
The Delray Beach Center for the Arts at Old School Square, built on the grounds of a 1913 school at 51 N. Swinton Ave., houses the Cornell Museum of Art, with year-round exhibits, and the Crest Theatre, where films, musicals, comedies and lectures are presented in the restored school auditorium. The four-acre campus, within walking distance of downtown, also has a Vintage Gymnasium where craft shows, exhibits and events are regularly staged below rafters still bearing student graffiti, and an outdoor pavilion, home to free Friday Night Concerts from October to January.
Pineapple Grove Arts District, just off Atlantic Avenue on Northeast 2nd Avenue and Northeast 4th Avenue, is an eclectic collection of street graffiti, shops, restaurants, art galleries, salons and spas. It’s where you’ll find Murder on the Beach, 273 Pineapple Grove Way, a mystery bookstore where you can pick up a signed first edition of Thomas Harris’ “Hannibal” or other books by Florida authors, and catch book signings, lectures and literary meals. Kismet, a vintage clothing store at 157 NE 2nd Ave., is another fun find. Be sure to stop by El Camino restaurant, 15 NE 2nd Ave., for late-night margaritas and tacos or Johnnie Brown’s, 301 E. Atlantic Ave., for blues and barbecue served in a former gas station along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks.
Arts Garage, on the ground level of the Old School Square parking garage at 180 NE 1st St., is a hub for visual artists, musicians and educators that presents jazz, classical and urban underground concerts. It also has a traditional theater with cabaret-style seating and an edgier black box where live theater is staged.
Artists Alley is a warehouse community of 30 artists in 21 spaces, including Perna and her latest fashion collection, at the north end of the Pineapple Grove Arts District, 350-358 NE 4th St. The Alley offers paintings, pottery, sculpture, glass, photography and other works of art. All of the studios and galleries are open every First Friday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and every Third Thursday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Most studios and galleries are open every Saturday from noon to 5 p.m.
Delray Beach Playhouse, 950 N.W. 9th St., has been bringing live community theater to Delray for 66 years. It features Broadway musicals and children’s theater.
Spady Cultural Heritage Museum, 170 N.W. 5th Ave., in the historic West Settlers District, is the only African American cultural heritage museum of its kind in Palm Beach County. Exhibits range from handmade quilts to Civil Rights photos. The museum’s “Ride and Remember Trolley Tour” is a two-hour historic tour of town that runs once a month. With more than a quarter of Delray residents claiming Haitian heritage, the museum also explores Haitian and Caribbean culture.
Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, 4000 Morikami Park Rd., is a series of six gardens inspired by the famous gardens of Japan. It’s worth the 15-minute drive south of downtown Delray. There’s a museum, tea house, sushi restaurant and fabulous gift store. The museum is a living link to a farming colony from Japan that settled in the area in the early 1900s.
To learn more about Delray Beach, go to www.visitdelraybeach.org.