Arts on Douglas Turns 25! February 03 2021

Image: Paxton Motors, circa 1940, at what is now Arts on Douglas.

On February 3, 1996, we opened our doors at 123 Douglas Street and have been promoting the work and careers of professional Florida artists at this location ever since. Over the past 25 years, we have worked with hundreds of artists, opened over 350 solo and group exhibitions, and placed thousands of works of art in private and corporate settings throughout Florida and the US. We also initiated the First Saturday Art Stroll and Gallery Walk in downtown New Smyrna Beach, which has become a popular community event. To celebrate this milestone, the gallery will be sharing posts and interviews highlighting our unique history throughout the year, leading up to two special exhibitions in November.

About the Gallery

Arts on Douglas was the vision of Doris “Doc” Leeper, artist and Atlantic Center for the Arts (ACA) founder. In early 1995, Leeper organized a series of meetings with local artists and proposed the question, “What do visual artists in this area need most?” The resounding answer was, “a place to exhibit our work on an ongoing basis.” The meetings garnered momentum and enthusiasm among the artists. Once the logistics were mapped out, Leeper purchased the 1920s era car dealership, a 7500 square foot building on Douglas Street. Leeper included her friend Ed Harris, a retired corporate executive and ACA board member, in these meetings.  He recognized, after she bought the building, he could be of help to her and the two became equal partners in the business. “Doc purchasing the building outright was her call to action and substantiated her commitment to the project and, more importantly, to the artists,” explains Harris. 

Leeper and Harris worked with architect William Jerome Miller (the architect for the original ACA buildings) on designs for interior and exterior renovations. By blending original architectural elements with modern upgrades, the building was transformed into a spacious, sophisticated art gallery. In a 1996 interview, Miller explained, “Revived and reused old buildings are a wonderful way to create new buildings that are special and unique.”

In 1995, Leeper and Harris conducted interviews for the Gallery Director position and hired Meghan Martin.  At the age of 25, Martin was a recent college graduate with a degree in Art History from the University of Florida.  Leeper took her under her wing and began to teach her the ins and outs of the gallery business. “There are practices Doc impressed upon me early on that I still utilize to this day,” explains Martin.  “Working directly with Leeper was a real education for me, she always had the artist’s best interests in mind.” Although Martin’s original arrangement with Leeper and Harris was a two-year contract, Martin has been running the gallery ever since. “It is unbelievable we are now celebrating our 25th anniversary!” explains Martin. “We are so grateful to all of our supporters throughout the years." 

When Leeper passed away in 2000, Ed Harris and his wife Jeanie remained committed to keeping the gallery going for the artists and the community. The gallery has experienced extraordinary growth over the years. In 2013, the alt_space gallery was established.  This exhibition space within Arts on Douglas is dedicated to Florida artists working in various experimental and contemporary genres.  This new space created an opportunity for the gallery to present an additional 6 exhibitions a year.  In 2016, the Harris’ transferred ownership of Arts on Douglas to ACA and set up an endowment for its sustainability.  Formalizing the gallery’s affiliation with ACA was a vision Leeper had early on and Arts on Douglas is a living legacy of Leeper’s and the Harris’ commitment to the arts and community.  

Image: Ed Harris and Doris Leeper at Arts on Douglas, 1997