ATLANTIC CENTER FOR THE ARTS: The Magic of Creative Cross-Pollination

By Linda Rodriguez

June 19th, 2017

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your writing is to stop, pack a bag, and travel to a place that feeds the artist in you.

Is there such a place? Yes! It’s the Atlantic Center for the Arts (ACA)  in New Smyrna, Florida.


ACA is consistently listed as a notable residency in the USA and they have just begun to post their 2018 Schedule of Residencies for Writers, Performers, Visual Artists, Musicians, and Composers.  But, list or not, I’ve been lucky enough to have participated in five of ACA’s residencies. So please let me tell you a bit more about this magical place…


ACA works on the principle of creative cross-pollination. Every residency is lead by three Master Artists, each one recognized in their field and a recipient of various amazing awards, like MacArthurs, Pulitzers, Obies, Guggenheims, National Book Awards, Rome Prize, etc. Some have even been knighted, as is the case of experimental cartoonist Matt Madden who will be one of the Master Artists of the upcoming Residency #170 (June 24-July 14, 2018). But don’t let these awards intimidate you in any way!


The atmosphere at ACA is decidedly friendly and you get to share workspace, ideas, and delicious, healthy meals with all three Master Artists and all the other Associate Artists. That’s the title you receive at ACA. And even if you won’t receive a diploma, like Scarecrow at the end of his journey in the Land of Oz, at ACA your creative ideas and impulses will receive respect, encouragement, and constructive criticism. Plus you will be taken care of as family, sometimes in very unique ways!


As I’ve said, at ACA they believe in creative cross-pollination and as if to emphasize this, they have their own apiarist, Trustee Doug McGinnis who during each residence gives a bee tour. At one of my residencies, I wasn’t feeling well, so Doug gave me a piece of honeycomb to chew on, warm honey dripping from it, and bees buzzing all around us, and soon after I was cured and went on writing. Also, as if to help us get into a Georges Méliès state-of-mind.


When the Space Shuttles were in service, Nick Conroy, Residency Director, would personally drive us to the New Smyrna Beach to experience their fiery flyovers. What could be more appropriate as part of the journey of transformation you take on when you arrive at ACA?


Maybe it is the magic of the place or the hospitality, but definitely, when you attend ACA you become part of an extended creative family. Fifteen years later, I still keep in contact with the first Master Artists I worked within 2002, Ishmael Reed, and his wife Carla Blank and daughter Tennessee Reed Also I’ve kept in touch with Master Artists Cornelius EadyHeather Woodbury, and Dael Orlandersmith who continue to encourage me through their words and work.


Another thing I would like to tell you about is the INsideOUT, a final evening of performances and open studios that is organized by the Associated Artists together with Master Artists. The INsideOUT begins at the Joan James Harris Theater, a black box theater, with a full house of local Floridians, ACA Trustees’, and special guests. It’s a great opportunity for collaboration and risk-taking, and like in a real show, just before the performance, everyone feels the butterflies of excitement and nerves fluttering inside. But the INsideOUT is always a hit and a valuable learning experience for the Associated Artists.


And this takes me to fellow artist Ellen Nielsen. During my last residency in 2015, Ellen invited me to don a headpiece she designed and constructed while at ACA and to take part in her short film, Flower Office.  Ellen has said that via her film she wanted to explore “alienation and feminization of bureaucratic labor” and give the viewer a “vision of workplace rebellion through floral non-productivity.” What I can tell you about my experience of acting in Ellen’s film is that while I wore the large, heavy headpiece I kept bumping against walls and furniture, because suddenly the office we were filming in felt tiny, even suffocating. The physical restriction of the “flower” around my face made me feel oppression in a way I had never experienced it before. And this precisely is why you want to go to ACA! To have artistic experiences you wouldn’t have if you stayed at home and give you a fresh POV.


One final note, if you are curious about the type of creative work that goes on at ACA and happens to be in or near L.A. this summer, you might like to go by an exhibit that just opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The exhibit is HOME—So Different, So Appealing and includes the work of Cuban born American visual artist María Elena González, who was a Master Artist at ACA in 2007 when I participated in the residency group lead by Cornelius Eady. You will find Ms. González’s large scale sculpture, Magic Carpet/Home at LACMA’s garden. Chon A. Noriega, professor at UCLA Department of Film, Television, and Digital Media writes of the sculpture: “The level floor is transformed into an undulating wave, evoking both Aladdin’s rug and the waves of the Caribbean Sea. The viewer is invited to play on its surface.” 


Check out ACA’s 2018 Residency Schedule and go play, cross-pollinate, and be transformed!