HistoryThe idea of a quiet place where artists could go to focus on their art and work with internationally renowned "masters" in a tranquil, natural environment blossomed in 1977 in the mind of Doris Leeper, a painter, sculptor and active environmentalist. A forthright, determined, passionate woman, 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 unofficially birthed Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
Soon after, when a prime piece of property became available on the shores of Turnbull Bay, a tidal estuary west of town, 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. 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. In addition to increasing artists' workspace to 12,000 sq. ft., the buildings provide additional presentation space for public programs and increased opportunities for partnerships. The entire facility is handicap-accessible.
The residency program brings together internationally-acclaimed master artists from different disciplines with talented artists who are selected by the masters. The artists attend a three-week residency session that includes 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 (photo pictured above). Since then, over 121 interdisciplinary residencies have take place, featuring 360 Master Artists and over 2,350 Associate Artists, 30% from Florida. Atlantic Center is often the starting point for new works which go on to be produced at national 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.
Only after firmly establishing an exceptional artists' residency with extensive outreach programs did Atlantic Center for the Arts broaden its mission to promote arts education to the local community by providing exhibition opportunities for outstanding Florida artists and educational programs for children and adults. In 1991, Atlantic Center at Harris House opened and the community arts program had its beginning. Located in the heart of a revitalized downtown, an historic home was converted to a cultural community center that, since its inception, has assumed a leadership role in providing arts education programs for children and cultural enrichment for adults.
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.
"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