An Artist’s Escape to New Smyrna Beach

After spending nearly ten years in New York City, I finally learned that the trick to staying sane is getting away in the wintertime. As an artist, I find it hard to keep my motivation high when the sky is gray and so is the slush on the ground. Even in this city where there is constantly a new show to see or gallery opening to attend, I still need to change things up a bit and find inspiration elsewhere.

Last year, I flew down to a small beach town called New Smyrna Beach, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. I knew it would not have galleries like in Miami or NYC. But this area is rich in a vibrant culture and appreciation for the arts that gave me the creative juices I was looking for. Here are some spots I found extra inspiring.

Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum

There’s something about old lighthouses that take me back to another time and give me perspective about how I shouldn’t sweat the little things. And the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse did just that. That’s probably because it’s so much more than just a lighthouse. The whole property has been preserved, which includes a dwelling for the principal lighthouse keeper, and one for each of the assistant keepers. So when you step on the land, you get a feel for how it all used to be. The lighthouse was originally built in 1887, and still stands strong. In the Lens Exhibit Building, you can browse the collection of truly stunning lenses and lanterns that were used over the years.

The Hub on Canal

I was so excited to learn about the Hub on Canal because it shows how much New Smyrna Beach supports their local artists. This center is an incubator for over 70 artists and gives them a space to showcase their work. They hold events to support the local arts community and also offer arts classes, music lessons, writing classes and various workshops. I loved perusing the gallery and seeing all of the unique sculptures and recycled art.


Marine Discovery Center

What’s more inspiring than nature? I didn’t realize that this area is home to the most biologically diverse estuary in all of North America – the Indian River Lagoon. The Marine Discovery Center told me everything I wanted to know about this fascinating natural habitat. Inside the center, aquariums and exhibits host just a small percentage of the 4000 species that occupy the waters outside. I loved getting up close and personal to some of them, especially the shark. I then took one of the kayak eco-tours led by a certified naturalist, who gave me tons of information and showed me some amazing creatures, like the manatee and bottlenose dolphin.

Arts on Douglas

Another artist’s paradise is Arts on Douglas. It’s a 3,500 square foot gallery with exhibition space that features rotating artists all year round. I particularly loved their newest addition to the gallery, alt_space. This was a more experimental gallery space, specifically dedicated to conceptual art, video, and other more contemporary genres, which I definitely did not expect to find here. I loved watching kids admire all of the various sculptures and abstract photographs. It reminded me how important art is for the whole family.


Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum  

This beautiful tribute to African American culture and history is definitely worth visiting. Museums like these don’t seem to be too common in Florida. And I’m glad I found it. Located in a small, old church where the Black Roman Catholics used to gather, this museum displays artifacts, photos, and memorabilia that tell a story of black culture in New Smyrna Beach over the past 100 years. Now more than ever, we need places like this to educate us all on race relations in this dear country of ours.