History of ACA

“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, ACA Founder

Main Campus

The Atlantic Center for the Arts was first conceived by Doris Leeper in 1977 as a Florida artist-in-residence program in which artists of all disciplines could work with current prominent artists in a supportive and creative environment. Leeper, a painter, sculptor, and environmentalist, saw the potential for an artist’s residency as a place for ideas to be created, shared, and come into fruition.

Leeper soon persuaded friends and community members to join in her vision. In 1979, she convinced The Rockefeller Foundation to provide a challenge grant that soon was matched. This $25,000 in seed money was the unofficial inception of the ACA. When a prime piece of property became available on the shores of Turnbull Bay, a tidal estuary west of New Smyrna Beach, Leeper raised the $50,000 necessary to buy the 10-acre plot. Three years later, five main buildings were completed. Over the years, five more buildings were constructed and an additional 59 acres were purchased as preserve land. In 1997, the Leeper Studio Complex was completed. Comprised of six buildings connected to existing structures by raised wooden walkways, it includes a library and studios for painting, sculpture, dance, music/recording, and theater. The studio complex added 12,000 sq. ft. of artists working space to the existing campus and also provides additional facilities for public programs and partnerships.

The residency program was designed to bring together internationally-acclaimed master artists from different disciplines with talented artists who are selected by the masters. Over the years artists have attended residencies of varying lengths, with sessions that include master classes, individual critiques, opportunities for collaboration, and private studio time. Atlantic Center for the Arts officially opened in 1982 for the first residency with author James Dickey, sculptor Duane Hanson and composer David Del Tredici. Since then, over 145 interdisciplinary residencies have take place, featuring over 400 Master Artists and over 3,500 Associate Artists from around the world. Atlantic Center has often been the starting point for new works which go on to be shown at national museums and performance centers such as the Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center, the Spoleto Festival, Jacob’s Pillow, the Walker Art Center and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Museum of Modern Art, Bang on A Can.   Click here for Residency History

Community Programs

After firmly establishing an exceptional artists’ residency, Atlantic Center for the Atlantic Center for the Arts broadened its mission to promote arts education by opening its community arts program at Harris House of Atlantic Center. Located in the heart of a revitalized downtown, the site, scheduled for demolition, was purchased and restored by trustee, Ed Harris and his wife Joan, and converted to a cultural community center.

Since its establishment in 1991, the Harris House has assumed a leadership role in providing arts education programs for children and cultural enrichment for adults. Harris House of ACA also acts as the manager for local arts projects that involve school children of all ages, as well as college students, interns, senior citizens, and arts professionals of all disciplines and backgrounds.

The Harris House’s success prompted the need for expansion and in 1999, an annex opened across the street. The Yurick Community Studio shares space with a commercial gallery (Arts on Douglas) and comprises office space as well as three large class/lecture rooms. Harris House currently offers a variety of Children’s Art Programs that range from an Afterschool Series, Saturday workshops, a Summer Series, a Children’s Theatrical Production, a Puppetry Production, Exhibitions, Outreaches, and Special Projects that take place at school sites. Partnerships have been coordinated with the Universal Studios-based Nickelodeon; Very Special Arts, which serves children and adults with special needs; community organizations such as People for a Drug-Free Youth and the Black Heritage Festival; multidisciplinary organizations such as Tomoka Poets Society and Storybook Theater; and governmental agencies such as New Smyrna Beach Parks & Recreation and Volusia County Public Schools; as well as collaborations with individual artists from the region and the state.

In Fall 2012 the facility at Harris House was transformed as ACA expanded its long-standing commitment to the community by starting a Community Artist in Residence (CAIR). The program consisted of two 3-4 month residencies each year. The Community Artists created projects that directly involve and interact with the community as a whole or some portion of it. The projects are designed to leave a lasting and meaningful impact on the community. 

In 2016, ACA launched an innovative Community Arts and Wellness Initiative with the support of the Pabst Foundation for the Charitable Arts that focuses on bringing artists with an arts and wellness based practice to New Smyrna Beach. ACA will work with a wide range or artists and partners to establish an ongoing dynamic initiative that will increase the health and wellness of patients, artists, and caregivers.

The vision of founder Doris Leeper lives on today as Atlantic Center continues to nurture the artists of tomorrow who are working today to create what will become our cultural heritage.