By Carla J. Eskew
For Hometown News
NEW SMYRNA BEACH - The synergy that flows in this town between the art galleries, the Artists' Workshop Inc., the Atlantic Center for the Arts and now, the Hub on Canal, make the city one of the top 100 art communities in the country. And those are just the organizations and businesses that cater to the visual arts. New Smyrna Beach also is home to The Little Theater and a plethora of local restaurants displaying local artists' works that add to the friendly, "artsy" atmosphere here.
"The arts' community continues to thrive in New Smyrna Beach mainly because the community supports the arts," Arts on Douglas Fine Art and Collectibles gallery director Meghan Martin said. "They're interested."
According to many people prominent in the arts scene here, one woman got it all started.
"From the very beginning, Doris Leeper (founder of Atlantic Center for the Arts, or ACA) set the tone, making all artists and all venues for the arts extremely valuable," said Nancy Lowden Norman, ACA co-director. "That tone has allowed us to value each other as organizations, what we do in the community and what we do to support working artists."
Many New Smyrna Beach residents are in tune with the arts community. And art lovers from around the state and country come for the annual Images Festival of the Arts, the monthly Art Walks or just to visit the many galleries and art spaces in town. Renowned artists - including playwright Edward Albee and photographer William Wegman - come from around the globe to visit the community and participate in the residency program at ACA.
"Our arts community is what adds such a vibrant cultural community in New Smyrna Beach. That's part of us being a friendly town, a friendly arts town," Ms. Lowden Norman said. "People come from all over and are excited to see a scene that really enhances the quality of life."
Author John Villani listed New Smyrna Beach in his book "The 100 Best Small
Art Towns in America: Where to Discover Creative Communities, Fresh Air and Affordable Living."
Mr. Villani said of ACA's Harris House in downtown New Smyrna Beach:
""The emphasis here is on local and regional arts and artists, with some of Florida's top names conducting day-long classes and lectures, evening poetry readings, children's art programs, group and one-artist shows, and an arts and humanities lecture series."
The arts community provides a huge economic boost in New Smyrna Beach. ACA spends 70 percent of its $1.2 million budget in town each year. Images attracts 40,000 people, Ms. Lowden Norman said.
"The arts are a huge economic driver in our community," she said.
An arts overlay district being considered by city commissioners now will bring more excitement as the arts community continues to grow.
The district would allow for home-based businesses that provide "a desired mix of appropriate uses oriented toward, or supporting, the visual, performing, cultural, literary, decorative and culinary arts theme."
The ordinance specifies that eligible businesses could include bakeries, cafes, coffee shops, galleries, restaurants, theaters, and retails sales and services associated with the visual, performing, cultural, literary, decorative or culinary arts.
The Artists' Workshop Inc.
The Artists' Workshop is a nonprofit organization that was started 54 years ago by art enthusiasts. Both amateur and professional artists can join the Workshop, which provides studio space for art classes, workshops and open studio time.
"It's a social atmosphere where artists are learning from one another," said Lyn Strong, Artists' Workshop member since 1998. "Anybody can join - beginners to professionals. For me, I think working with other artists gives you incentive. It's more exciting."
Some of the painting classes offered at the Workshop are watercolor, experimental, abstract and plein air. There are classes for all ages. The member artists do a variety of community exhibits throughout the area.
The Hub on Canal
The Hub, which opened in March, is the newest addition to the arts community welcoming and encouraging the public to delve into the artistic process. More than 40 diverse artists rent studio and gallery space at The Hub. Each space is glassed in, flowing from one space to the next. Artwork is for sale. Most of the artists have scheduled times so visitors can see their favorite artists at work or chat with them. The types of art represented include watercolors, oil paintings, silversmith, woodcarver, handmade moccasins, paper Mache, sculpting, pet portraits and more.
"There's a tremendous creative energy that runs through the hub. The people coming in, the excitement - it's a very alive space," said Judy Gilmer, abstract artist and sculptor. Ms. Gilmer rents studio space at The Hub and has been a member of The Artist Workshop since 1996.
In addition, there is classroom space where art classes, Spanish conversation classes, guitar lessons and yoga are offered. The classes are open to the public and members. Later this year, a wine and coffee bar will open inside The Hub, Ms. Gilmer said.
"The Hub provides the cultural experience all the way around, as well as the opportunity for the artist," she said.
Galleries and Shops
New Smyrna Beach has many art galleries and shops that display and sell the work of Florida artists including pottery, oil paintings, acrylics and more.
Arts on Douglas Fine Art and Collectibles, is a gallery that features a reception for an artist's solo exhibition the first Saturday of every month. It is free and the public is encouraged to attend. The 5,000-square-feet commercial gallery showcases more than 57 professional Florida artists of varied styles, media and temperaments.
Gallery Director Meghan Martin said she is glad the gallery is located in such an arts-laden community.
"We're culture rich in this area," Ms. Martin said. "The music we listen to, the plays we like to see, the paintings we like to see - they're all tied into our culture. We have all these locations in our community to experience the different arts."
Atlantic Center for the Arts
Nestled off Art Center Avenue at the North end of town, the Atlantic Center of the Arts is tucked into 67 acres in the midst of the 2,300 acres of Spruce Creek Preserve. It features a gallery and a visitor's center. But the hidden gem is the artists' retreat. At least four times a year, the ACA's National Council in New York City selects three master artists from around the world to come to ACA for a three-week residency. The masters select a combined 20 associate artists who attend the three-week residency at the same time.
"We do interdisciplinary arts. We have painters, writers, dancers, musicians, graphic artists and sculptors," said Kathryn Peterson, ACA marketing manager.
The artists do not have to leave. The master artists stay in cottages, while the associate artists stay in modest hotel-styled rooms. They can completely immerse themselves in their work, in nature and the work of others. An onsite chef prepares delicious and, often, vegetarian meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Staff brings needed supplies so the artist can work on their projects either alone or in collaboration with other attending artists in the painting studio, the sculpting studio, the music studio, the dance studio, the theater and the library.
At the end of the three weeks, the ACA sponsors "Inside Out," an event for the resident artists to present work from the past three weeks.
"Typically about 60 to 70 people come (for Inside Out," said Nick Conroy, residency program director for ACA. "It's a variety showcase of what went down. A lot of it is experimental. It might be the only night the public ever sees it,"
Sometimes a seed is planted with the artists while at the residency program, and years later, they collaborate on projects.
The ACA marks its 35th anniversary this year.