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 (ACA) was envisioned by Doris Leeper in 1977 as a residency program for artists of all disciplines to collaborate with prominent artists in a nurturing environment. Leeper, a painter, sculptor, and environmentalist, saw the potential for an artists’ residency to foster the creation and sharing of ideas.

In 1979, Leeper secured a $25,000 challenge grant from The Rockefeller Foundation, marking the unofficial beginning of ACA. She then raised $50,000 to purchase a 10-acre plot on Turnbull Bay in New Smyrna Beach. By 1982, five main buildings were completed, and ACA officially opened with its first residency featuring author James Dickey, sculptor Duane Hanson, and composer David Del Tredici.

Over the years, ACA expanded its facilities, including the completion of the Leeper Studio Complex in 1997, adding 12,000 sq. ft. of working space and additional facilities for public programs. The residency program pairs internationally-acclaimed mentoring artists with selected talented artists, offering master classes, individual critiques, collaboration opportunities, and private studio time. Since its inception, ACA has hosted over 180 residencies, featuring more than 540 Mentoring Artists and over 4,100 Associate Artists from around the world.

Many works developed at ACA have been showcased at prestigious venues such as the Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center, the Spoleto Festival, and the Museum of Modern Art. Click here for Residency History

Community Programs

Building on its success as an artists’ residency, Atlantic Center for the Arts (ACA) expanded its mission to include arts education by opening Atlantic Center for the Arts at Harris House in 1991. Located in downtown New Smyrna Beach, Harris House was saved from demolition and transformed into a cultural community center by trustee Ed Harris and his wife Joan.

Harris House has become a leader in providing arts education for children and cultural enrichment for adults. It manages local arts projects involving people of all ages, from school children to senior citizens, and collaborates with arts professionals of diverse backgrounds.

Due to its success, Harris House expanded in 1999 with the Yurick Community Studio, which shares space with a commercial gallery (Arts on Douglas) and three large class/lecture rooms. Harris House offers a variety of Children’s Art Programs, including afterschool and Saturday workshops, summer series, theatrical and puppetry productions, exhibitions, and outreach projects. It partners with organizations such as Nickelodeon, Very Special Arts, People for a Drug-Free Youth, the Black Heritage Festival, Tomoka Poets Society, and Storybook Theater, as well as governmental agencies and local artists.

In 2012, ACA launched the Community Artist in Residence (CAIR) program at Harris House, featuring two 3-4 month residencies each year where artists create projects that engage the community and leave a lasting impact.

In 2016, ACA introduced the Community Arts and Wellness Initiative, supported by the Pabst Foundation for the Charitable Arts. This initiative brings artists focused on arts and wellness to New Smyrna Beach, aiming to enhance the health and wellness of patients, artists, and caregivers.

The vision of ACA’s founder, Doris Leeper, continues to thrive as ACA nurtures the artists of tomorrow, shaping our cultural heritage. Click here to learn more about Doris Leeper