Literary Tour: Atlantic Center for the Arts, New Smyrna Beach, Florida

“If you had a world with no music, no dance, no visual arts—I don’t even want to try and think about how horrible that would be.”  Doris Leeper, founder, Atlantic Center for the Arts

If most people found themselves driving slowly down a narrow road in a jungle on a hot night and suddenly, off to the right there was a blaze of light, music and dancers outlined against the dark green of the foliage and night sky, the occupants of the car might rightfully worry about their future as the main course in some primitive tribe’s cook pot. However, on the east coast of Florida, in the jungle four miles from the ocean in New Smyrna Beach, the brave explorers would have most likely found their way to the Atlantic Center for the Arts.

The Atlantic Center for the Arts was first conceived in 1977 by artist and New Smyrna Beach resident Doris Leeper. “Doc,” as she was known to the locals, envisioned an artist-in-residence program where artists of all disciplines could come and work with internationally acclaimed master artists in a supportive and creative environment.

A painter, sculptor, avid environmentalist and general force of nature according to people who knew her, Doc saw the organization and creation of the ACA from its inception to its opening in 1982. If you visit ACA when artists are not in residence, you are allowed to meander along the boardwalk amid various studios and living spaces that are quiet and still waiting for the arrival of the next round of residents to arrive. At times like this, the spirit of Doc the environmentalist can be felt among the acres of quiet lush underbrush and trees.

Song birds are plentiful, mere dashes of color as they rocket from one tree limb to another looking for the best perch from which to perform their songs. Small lizards skitter up screen doors and peak around edges in constant games of hide and seek with the human visitor.

All the buildings at ACA are built to slip gently into the landscape of this tropical setting. They are what you might expect to find in this corner of the jungle, at least from the outside: simple elegant lines that do not offend the senses.  In 1997 the Leeper Studio complex was completed, six buildings consisting of a library, studios for painting, sculpture, dance, music/recording and theater. They are connected to the other buildings by the raised wooden walkways so as not to disturb the non-human inhabitants of the area.

With the arrival of the master artists and the resident artists, the energy of the ACA completely changes. At all hours of the night and day there is the sound of human creativity. Colors are applied to canvas, the sounds of music escape the studio or courtyard, the sound of feet pounding rhythmically on wood meld with the sounds of nature and echo through the 50+ acres. Geckos peek around the open doorways and occasionally a bird will fly in an open door or window to contribute to the creative process. This is where nature, art and creativity come together to play.

Photo by Bear Clause, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Kathryn Neel.

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  1. says

    Visited years ago. Cool place with some great studio space. I love that it’s on a preserve. It offers a teen creative writing residency, too.

    Liked your lead-in. I got in and out of the jungle a few steps ahead of the pot. Far south, I met up with a few Seminoles in the Everglades and watched a gator wrestler. I’ve tried gator (at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings place). It tastes like the proverbial chicken.

  2. Kathryn Neel says


    We have our share of airboats, gator wrestlers, and gator (grilled, fried or cajun) at a place called JBs Fish Camp down the way from ACA. Who said you can’t mix pickup trucks and art?

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