During the summer in Florida's coastal towns, restaurants open up patios where the drinks are served ice cold; boutiques roll out sidewalk sales; and art cooperatives and galleries team for weekend art walks where prints of crabs, sunsets and moored fishing boats are common themes.
But in the Gulf Coast town of Alys Beach, Fla., the arts festival comes with a different flavor.
The relatively young town—it celebrates its 10th anniversary this year—is situated right on the Gulf of Mexico a mere 25 miles west of Panama City. Founded by Jason Comer and named in honor of his late grandmother, Alys Beach is a destination of its own where the streets are walkable and run parallel to the beach. It was a design feature meant to capture the sea breezes and provide views of the white-sand beaches and the Gulf waters.
The iconic architecture in the town was meant to be eco-friendly as well as beautiful, and the structures were fortified to stand strong against hurricanes. The stark white walls defining the city's style also provide the foundation for one of the most unique art shows in the world.
To highlight the town's beauty and design, Comer wanted to bring something new and exciting to the table—an annual event to reflect the beauty of Alys Beach. Digital Graffiti founder Mike Ragsdale says the architecture reminded him of a blank canvas, one that would work perfectly as a projection surface, and from there the idea was born.
Artists from all around the world submit digital art to the annual competition, "from five-second looping images ... like a living painting ... to short films to six- and seven-minute loops of abstract imagery," which are projected onto the walls of buildings around the town, effectively turning Alys Beach into an art gallery in motion. Some exhibits are interactive, allowing artists and visitors to manipulate the shapes and the motion of the piece in real time. Winners are chosen in five categories, with cash prizes up to $10,000.
Curator Brett Phares describes Digital Graffiti as "wondrous and breathtaking."
"It feels like you left the country," Phares says. "... It's unique because you're seeing the world all right here; you didn't have to go very far."
This year marks Digital Graffiti's seventh year and includes an additional date. The first night of the spectacle features an exclusive tour led by Phares. The second day features a meet-and-greet art walk with some of the finalists, and the weekend wraps up on Saturday with a live festival exhibit and a can't-miss pool party at the Caliza Pool, complete with DJs and a cash bar.
To date, Alys Beach's Digital Graffiti is the only art show of its kind in the world. The combination of the architectural and natural beauty of Alys Beach with the imaginative innovation of artists from around the world make for a breathtaking experience that simply must be seen.
Get there: Digital Graffiti is June 6-7. Tickets are available online beginning March 24 and are $200 per person for VIP package with all-access weekend passes; Friday night passes are $50/adults and $20/children 12 and under; Saturday night passes are $75. Proceeds benefit The Alys Foundation and support local charities.