The heart and soul of Vero Beach thrives in its arts and culture scene
By Xaque Gruber
This native New Yorker was pleasantly surprised when I went to the pretty hamlet of Vero Beach, Florida, to visit my parents’ new home just steps from the surf. The little town vibrated with culture—art, theater, music, opera, film, fine cuisine and literature abound. An arts scene like this on Florida’s east coast? Surprise, surprise.
Everywhere I turned, this laid-back village was growing more interesting. Vero Beach was a seemingly impossible combination of an unassuming beachy town, free of high-rises, with quietly sophisticated cultural gifts. It was no wonder the neighbors on my parents’ newfound street in Vero were an intriguing blend: an Academy Award-winning screenwriter, a World War II Army Colonel and a renowned gospel singer.
Vero Beach Museum of Art
As an avid art lover, my heart raced upon seeing The Vero Beach Museum of Art for the first time. This beacon rising in lushly sprawling Riverside Park is the nation’s largest art museum created entirely with private funds. It’s a treat to find a small town that is a monumental home for masterworks of art, and this museum is far more than paintings hung on walls. Vero Beach Museum of Art, along with Riverside Theatre across the street, is Indian River County’s cultural beating heart—the epicenter in a town bursting with pleasant surprises. Its offerings include international gallery exhibits, sculpture gardens, art classes, well-curated foreign and classic film series in the museum theater, a cafe, library, a gift shop and one of the nation’s longest running art clubs. Vero Beach Museum of Art is reason alone to visit this gem of a town, but as I happily discovered, far from the only one.
Directly across Riverside Park Drive is the jewel of Indian River County’s live theater destinations—Riverside Theatre—and it rivals the best I’ve seen in much larger cities. The 2016–2017 season spans a wide range of 20th century pop culture—Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, Noel Coward’s Private Lives, Mame, Chicago and Saturday Night Fever. Past seasons have included West Side Story, Grease, Les Misérables and The Producers. If plays and musicals are not your thing, fear not. Riverside’s feast of fun also includes their weekend Comedy Zone evenings featuring rising stand-up stars and the spirited Howl at the Moon dueling piano cabaret shows. And for only five bucks, you can take a “Behind the Scenes” backstage theater tour on select Fridays throughout the year. For families with younger children, there’s an impressive Children’s Theatre adjoining Riverside Theatre featuring youngster-friendly plays and classes. Both Riverside Theatre and Vero Beach Museum of Art host guest lecture events featuring everyone from Dick Cavett and Henry Winkler to Condoleezza Rice and Ken Burns, to name a few.
The Gallery District
Just a few miles west of the Museum of Art and Riverside Theatre is the historic, revitalized Downtown Arts District of Vero Beach. The district is rich with uncommon eateries, boutiques, street festivals and an unusually high number of art galleries featuring the work of brilliant local artists at affordable prices. The first Friday evening of every month, the Downtown Arts District opens its doors (and runs a trolley) for the public to stroll and explore its many offerings. When buying gifts for birthdays or special events, I hightail it to Flametree Clay Art Gallery, which showcases the most unique and beautiful handmade bowls, vases, sculptures, and ornaments—many for less than 100 dollars. In addition to Flametree, other 14th Avenue art destinations include the Artist’s Guild Gallery, Main Street Vero Beach, Gallery 14, Tiger Lily and, for a distinctive splash of Florida history, The Highwaymen Gallery.
Highwaymen Art Gallery
For those of you unfamiliar with The Highwaymen, their legendary story began in the 1960s when 26 black artists, shunned by local galleries, took to their cars to sell their lush oil landscapes for 25 to 35 dollars apiece along Florida’s highways—sometimes while the work was still wet. Today, the paintings sell for thousands of dollars and are exhibited in museums nationwide. Vero’s Highwaymen Gallery helps carry the torch for future generations to experience this now-celebrated style of Florida art.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and souls of its people.” This rings true in Vero Beach, a mellow seaside town where culture is a way of life.