Artistic energy from comradery at the Atlantic Center for the Arts

The Atlantic Center for the Arts complex from the top

The Atlantic Center for the Arts (ACA) is located in a dense scrub oak canopy habitat along Spruce Creek in New Smyrna Beach. This multidisciplinary artist residency facility was founded in 1977 by Doris Leeper, an internationally known sculpture and painter living in the area at the time. In a quick search of the web I found this facility ranked #3 on a list titled A Guide to 20 Top Artist Residencies and Retreats Across the United States published in 2012 by BLOUIN ARTINFO.

While much use of this facility focuses on their prestigious Master Artists in Residency Program where resident students are selected by the Master Artist through an open application process they also open the facility up to others when the use does not conflict with the residency programs.


This past December I was invited to visit with a group of artists working at the ACA participating in an annual artist retreat now in its 15th year organized by ACA residency alum Jean Banas who studied with Fumio Yoshimura (1926-2002) in 1985. Banas is an extraordinary abstract artist who is respected well beyond her home base of New Smyrna Beach.  Of the event Jean says, “A majority of the artists attended Steve Aimone‘s ACA workshops. These long time dear friends come together yearly as a close knit family, to be inspired and supportive of each other. I feel honored that these professional artists are so pleased to be a part of the group.”

Garde and Zalisko take a moment.

Garde and Zalisko share a moment

I joined the group for dinner one evening, which was followed by a tour of their studio areas. Since most artists come to this retreat for privacy I was honored by these moments with them. I settled in at a table with a few other visitors, Jean’s husband and art enthusiast Ray and artist Harold Garde, whose exceptional career is a must read. (web at

Suddenly a vibration of energy joined us in the dining area – enter the working artists – laughter ringing out and discussion buzzing. I enjoyed and readily accepted the contagion as each artist greeted me. It was as though I had too been painting with them for the past several days. Most artists I know are like this – energized by being with other artists, working on art and talking about art. It’s an inspiring lifestyle for both novice and professional artist.



In this year’s group I discovered a powerhouse of award winning professionals who are confident in the importance of their artistic journey. Each came to the retreat for their own reason, but inspiration was a common theme. One had recently returned from a 30 day residency, another from Spectrum at Miami Basel planning a work for a group show in New York City, one an arts professor on her individual art trek away from the classroom, one just having closed a solo exhibit at a major institution, with another hinting at an upcoming major public art opportunity – some starting new works, some experimenting, and others finishing up works started elsewhere. These are artists you want to watch going forward if you aren’t watching them now.

Check out the list of heavy hitters below. Enjoy a few quotes on this retreat from some of the artists. Be sure to use the links to their web sites when they are available. Enjoy!

Works by Banas

Works by Banas


Jean Banas
New Smryna Beach, Florida

Cheri Erdman
New Smryna Beach, Florida

Frances Gardner
Health Springs, South Carolina

Carson Kapp
New Smryna Beach, Florida


Gardner - tools await her return

Gardner’s tools await her return


Martha Lent
Maitland, Florida

Martha Mahoney
Winter Park, Florida

Karlene McConnell
Ormond Beach, Florida

Kathy O’Meara
New Smyrna Beach, Florida


Wild - 8 x 8 underway

Beau’s 8×8 underway


 Betty Parker
Daytona Beach, Florida

Audrey Phillips
Maitland, Florida

Antoinette M. Slick
Ormond Beach, Florida

Beau Wild
Port Orange, Florida

Pat Zalisko
Estero, Florida


“I successfully completed my 1st Kick Start Campaign to create an 8’x8’ painting on how fragile we are for the New York Expo. I have painted the initial painting over the past 2 days, but do see some to resolve in the size and theme.”

Beau Wild, Port Orange, FL

Mara Whitridge paint seems to float

Mara’s paint seems to float




“I am painting because I am painting, no goal just process.”

Mara Whitridge, DeLand, FL



Lent goes minimalist

Lent goes minimalist


“I have been away from painting most of this year. This was an excellent opportunity to just have fun. I did not have a specific agenda pre-planned out. I rather wanted to focus my time in painting a new series of 15 minimal abstract paintings with collage.”

Martha L. Lent, Maitland, FL



Slick prolific output

Slick’s prolific output


“I find the retreats at ACA very valuable, both for improvement of skills and for the comradery of working with fellow artists instead of alone in the studio.”

Antoinette M. Slick, Ormond Beach, FL


OMeara experimenting

O’Meara experimenting



“I’m here to have fun creating my art work at our annual art camp. Hanging with other creatives is so inspiring. We all thrive in this environment.”

Kathy O’Meara, New Smyrna Beach, FL



McConnell at station

McConnell contemplating



“I stay at ACA to explore and experiment. I feel more compelled to stray off my familiar path when I am surrounded by other artists in a beautiful new environment.”

Karlene McConnell, Ormond Beach, FL



“This annual retreat for me is a homecoming. I work with supportive friends who can and do offer constructive criticism. They have been my pals for years and know many of my life secrets. I couldn’t create in better company than this. Now, Christmas has begun for me.”

Pat Zalisko, Estero, FL

Mahoney chats about art

Mahoney chats about art


“I’m here to relieve myself of ….(kidding)…to be with fellow comrades of the Brush Brigade. I’m not leaving until the last brush is gone I swear!”

Martha Mahoney, Winter Park, FL


“The ambiance at the studios at the Atlantic Center for the Arts activates the artistic energy in me more than any other venue. Perhaps it is the fellowship of outstanding artists who work together here that generates the high level of inspiration.”

Betty Morris Parker, Daytona Beach, FL

UPDATE: Karlen McConnell, Audrey Phillips, and Pat Zalisko are currently exhibiting with Melisa Mason at the Ormond Memorial Museum, Ormond Beach, through February 28th.

The Grand Opening Reception for the Harold Garde: Last of the Game Changers exhibit at Henao Contemporary Center in Orlando is on Febraury 6, 2016 from 7:00pm to 10:00pm. The exhibition includes works unseen before and runs through March 27th.