KEY WEST EXHIBIT
As the 100th anniversary of the birth of Tennessee Williams approached in 2011, Dennis Beaver, local businessman and community activist, met with staff members at the Key West Art and Historical Society to discuss ways to celebrate this milestone event. They felt strongly that our city needed to honor this international celebrity who had been a Key West resident from 1949 to 1983. Poetry and painting contests were organized and a reception set for the playwright’s May 26 birthday. Well over one hundred people attended the birthday celebration. This convinced the organizers that there was a great deal of interest in Tennessee Williams. That interest prompted Beaver to establish an exhibit of Williams’ memorabilia that he had been collecting for many years. He put his collection on display in a community center at 513 Truman Avenue. In 2012, the Exhibit was taken down and stored while 7,000 square feet of new and expanded exhibit space was added to the building. On March 26, 2013, in honor of Tennessee Williams’ birthday, Mayor of Key West Craig Cates joined Beaver and other community leaders in cutting the ribbon that officially reopened the expanded and permanent Exhibit. Also, during this time the Exhibit became incorporated by the State of Florida. A board of directors was assembled to provide guidance and oversight. By-laws were written and approved. In 2014, the Internal Revenue Service designated the Exhibit a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization and a membership program was established. The Exhibit has always been free to the public with donations being welcome.
The goal of the Exhibit is to keep the legacy alive of one of the greatest American writers of the last century. It offers visitors an entertaining and informative self-guided tour as well as curator led tours. Included in the Exhibit is the largest collection of Tennessee Williams memorabilia available to the public. It includes an extensive collection of photographs, most of which were taken in Key West, first edition plays and books, rare newspaper and magazine articles, videos, and a typewriter used by the author while writing in Key West. Historic and hard to find artifacts and materials continue to be donated and purchased to enhance the Exhibit.
An expanded Tennessee Williams Birthday Celebration continues to be held each spring. Short story writing has been added to the poetry and painting contests. A series of classic award-winning films based on Williams’ plays are shown at the Tropic Cinema, followed by a film forum. Theater events explore the personal and artistic life of Williams in order to provide insights into the emotional and artistic rollercoaster that plagued him for most of his life and influenced his writing. The March 26 Birthday Reception recognizes contest winners and celebrates the life and work of one of Key West’s most famous residents.
The TENNESSEE WILLIAMS KEY WEST EXHIBIT, INC. continues to be a thriving organization striving to meet its goal of keeping alive through its Exhibit and Birthday
Celebration the important literary legacy of this Key West resident.