Explore Arts and Culture in the Space Coast

Culture in East Central Florida
Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum

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From Space Shuttle Atlantis to Open Mike’s Coffee House, from New Smyrna Beach to Port Saint Lucie, there’s a huge variety of things to see and do on the Atlantic Coast of Florida.

Science and History Museums

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Merritt Island

“Space…the Final Frontier.” If those words get you even the least bit excited, then you must take a trip to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Merritt Island, where there are literally thousands of things to see. In fact, there’s so much, you may not get to see it all in one trip, so start with the ones you don’t want to miss.

The Rocket Garden is unlike any other garden you’ll ever see. No flowers, but you’ll see actual rockets from NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, and guided tours are available.

The Heroes & Legends exhibits celebrates the pioneers of NASA’s early space programs and features the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Visit the Space Shuttle exhibit to get a view of Atlantis, up close and personal. The exhibit includes more than 60 interactive exhibits about the history, technology and impact of the Space Shuttle Program.

Go to the Journey to Mars exhibit and learn about NASA’s plans to explore deep space, see a life-sized Mars rover replica and try out the interactive exhibit to test your skills as a Mars explorer.

Take a bus tour behind the gates and have access to the historic launch sites and spaceflight facilities that are still in use. Don’t forget to stop at “The World’s Largest Space Shop” before you leave.

Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum, New Smyrna Beach

The Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to increased recognition and acknowledgement of African American culture and history through exhibits of photos, oral histories, memorabilia and artifacts. Its goal is to educate citizens about the history of race relations in small town Florida during the 20th century.

This small museum is housed in the 19th century Sacred Heart/St. Rita building in New Smyrna Beach, built in 1899 and restored in 1999, and listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. This building was once a church for a congregation of Black Roman Catholics. The photos and oral histories speak of the hardships and triumphs of this African American community from the early 1900’s to the present, with personal accounts of daily life that make history come alive for young and old.

Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and Museum

When you enter the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and Museum, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time over 130 years. The Museum is made up of 12 original historic buildings that tell the history and stories of what was considered a marvel of technology when it was completed in 1887. The light provided a sorely needed guidepost marking the only inlet located between St. Augustine and Cape Canaveral. The lighting system needed continual attention during the night and hours of cleaning during the day, requiring three lighthouse keepers to live on the property with their families. Each had their own house and nearby outbuilding, most of which are still standing today.

The overall height of the lighthouse itself is 164.5 feet. There are 213 steps from the ground level to the lantern room and visitors can climb them all, provided they are in good health and physical condition. The lighthouse and museum were declared a National Historic Landmark in 1998.

Art Museums & Galleries

A. E. Backus Museum & Gallery, Fort Pierce

Albert Ernest Backus (1906-1990) was a self-taught artist who created iconic images of the everlasting beauty of the Florida landscape. His paintings captured a unique sense of place, whether on the beaches, in the rivers, the swamps, or the back country, that is instantly recognizable and loved.

After serving in the Navy during World War II, Backus moved back to Fort Pierce, where he grew up. He converted his family’s former property into a Bohemian-styled home and studio, a hangout where all were welcome.  During this period, Backus perfected an energetic painting style for his landscapes that reproduced the effects of the beautiful Florida light.

In 1958, Backus met a young African American high school student named Alfred Hair, and soon an idea was kindled. He developed an artistic path that went beyond racial barriers of the times and toward a brighter future. He became a mentor to Hair and other young artists who became known as “The Highwaymen”. These artists sold their paintings from the trunks of their cars parked along the highway.

Backus became a champion for a countless number of people in his lifetime and is remembered today, not just for his beautiful art, but also his altruistic spirit and the way he shared the arts with his community.

Visit the  Museum and enjoy his magnificent work, along with a gallery of work by The Highwaymen.

Eau Gallery and Art Walk, Melbourne

The Eau Gallery is a  fine art gallery located in a part of Melbourne known as the Eau Gallie Arts District (EGAD), home to several other galleries, shops, restaurants, a craft brewery and a coffee house. It was created by our members of the gallery in February 2019, to provide local artists with a place to show their artwork in a cultivating and fun environment.

On the first Friday of the month, the area galleries host an evening Art Walk from 5:30 to 8:30 pm. In addition to the wonderful artwork, there’s wine and cheese and live music to enjoy as you wander from gallery to gallery. The artists change out their artwork every two months so it’s always fresh and exciting, and there’s a 2D and/or 3D artist or group featured each month in the main room of the gallery.

Atlantic Center for the Arts, New Smyrna Beach

The Atlantic Center for the Arts (ACA)  is a non-profit, multidisciplinary artist residency facility. This mentoring program couples well-known Master Artists with less experienced artists for a three week period. The residencies are process-based and not product-driven. This allows the resident artist to spend time on previously existing projects, new experiments, or on collaborations with their mentors or other residents. The program is unique in that it emphasizes creating conversations and sharing ideas between three separate disciplines per program. Disciplines include visual artists, writers, dancers, and musicians, as well as many other types of fine art.

ACA believes that the spirit and challenges of artistic expression are shared by all areas of art. And artists can learn much from coming together to share their work and ideas. The ACA exhibits the work of their artists at the Arts on Douglas Gallery, also located in New Smyrna Beach.

Southeast Museum of Photography, Daytona State College

The Southeast Museum of Photography‘s primary purpose is educational outreach, which they achieve through their exhibits, collections, preservation of photographs. They also interpret photography to assist in the teaching and learning of this art at Daytona State College.

The Museum adds to the community’s understanding and appreciation of culture, history, art and photography. The Museum has received significant recognition over the years via grants, endowments and national humanity awards.

Performing Arts

The Sunrise Theatre, Fort Pierce

The Sunrise Theatre, in Historic downtown Fort Pierce, is a beautifully restored intimate 1,200-seat theatre. The theatre presents national touring Broadway shows, musical and comedy acts, ballet, country stars and classic rock icons. This well-known venue attracts visitors from all over the state.

The building opened its doors on August 1, 1923 as the largest theatre on Florida’s East Coast between Jacksonville and Miami. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. After opening, it quickly became the center of all St. Lucie County’s cultural activities.

The theatre has been on-again/off-again over the years,. But as of its complete renovation and reopening in 2006, it has been returned to its original splendor. It also has new state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems.

Also a part of the complex is the 220-seat Black Box Theatre offering a variety of national, regional and local programming. The Black Box is home to the Ft. Pierce Jazz and Blues Society’s Jazz Jams held every Tuesday night, and presents “The Comedy Corner” (from the owners of The Improv) every 2nd & 4th Saturday night of the month, bringing top-touring comedians to the Florida Coast.

The Historic Cocoa Village Playhouse, Cocoa

It started out as the Aladdin Theater, opening in 1924 to show silent movies. Several owners and several decades later, the City of Cocoa purchased the building and renamed it The Cocoa Village Playhouse.

In 1984, Brevard Community College bought the building for only $1. For this price, they understood two things. First, they would take on the responsibility of ownership. Second, the college would operate the theatre in a way to serve the community.

The Playhouse was restored, made operational, and became a community theatre in 1989. They where iconic for presenting musicals with local volunteer performers and crew.

As the productions grew and became popular, the theatre established a youth program in 1992, known as the “Stars of Tomorrow”.  What began with eight children from age 8-17 now has over 250 participants each season. “Stars” learn about the theatre and performing. In addition, they are required to maintain a 3.0 grade point average in their classes.

Overall, the performer base for Playhouse productions has now grown to over 600 volunteers.

Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center, Sanford

The Wayne Densch Theatre is a historic community theatre whose mission is “to provide affordable entertainment and quality opportunities to participate in the arts, while maintaining this beautiful historic venue!” The Theatre is famous for presenting musicals and plays featuring local talent. It also features productions from tribute bands, musical ensembles, dance companies, classic movies, and several well-known entertaining groups. Groups include Le Cirque Nuit and Phantasmagoria. They also hold a summer camps for children who put on shows at the end of their programs.

Open Mike’s Coffee Lounge, Melbourne

Take an old music store, delicious organic coffee, and a very talented pool of performers from the local community; put them together and you come up with Open Mike’s!  Over the years it has evolved into one of the best venues for live music on the Space Coast of Florida. They have jam nights, comedy nights, a swing dance party every week, and, of course, an open mic night every Monday. Saturday nights brings a showcase of entertainment that you won’t want to miss.

For more exciting areas to adventure to in Florida’s Space Coast, click here.

**Disclaimer: There is a good chance that this post contains affiliate or sponsor links. If you make a purchase through them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you (for which we are extremely grateful).

Also, while we do our best to highlight LGBTQ-friendly destinations and businesses, info provided is based solely on personal experience and recommendations by community partners. We hope that nobody experiences discrimination or homophobia while visiting Florida and beyond, but we make no guarantees. Please inform us if you experience discrimination or homophobia while visiting any destination so we can make updates to our recommendations.

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june, 2024

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