George Lansing Taylor Jr.

The Coca-Cola bottling plant at 939 N. Magnolia Ave. in Ocala.

OCALA — When Lisa and David Midgett bought the historic Coca-Cola bottling plant building in Ocala last year, they weren’t sure what they wanted to do with it.

“The first plan was we were going to put a distillery here. We sort of played around with that,” Lisa Midgett said, adding they had pretty much settled on opening an art gallery when COVID-19 hit.

The Midgetts, who are active in the arts – she on the Marion Cultural Alliance board and he on the Reilly Arts Center board – decided to open the building, at 939 N. Magnolia Ave., to local artists impacted by the pandemic.

“Artists use the fall shows to feed spring, the spring shows to feed fall and so on. And with the cancellation of shows due to COVID, they just weren’t making the money they needed,” Midgett said.

That’s when they came up with the idea to open as a pop-up gallery where artists could create and sell their work, free of any gallery fees until the end of the year.

ArtCastle, as the project is known, held an open house Thursday (Aug. 27). Regular hours will be Thursday through Saturday from noon until 6 p.m. until Sept. 26.

“We created a space for them to collaborate. It’s such a great space,” Midgett said.

Fifteen Marion County-based artists were selected to exhibit their work, including painters, photographers, and artists that use metalwork and ceramics.

“It’s been amazing. My studio at home is very small,” said Justin Alsedeck, who was painting an 8-foot tall piece on wood.

“I would never be able to do a piece this big at my studio,” he said.

The painting features bold neon colors with disembodied heads all connected by a red string.

“It’s promoting the projection of love and positive energy. I wanted to remind people to not pollute the flow of pf energy. Positive love,” he said.

Alsedeck said having other artists working near you can’t help but influence his work. He quickly adopted the neon colors in his painting from paints used by another artist.

“I always wanted to be able to get a bright magenta, this fluorescent pink really lets me get that color I’ve wanted,” he said.

Leslie Wengler, a photographer showing several images at the gallery, said the energy of the other artists inspired her to create a mixed media piece.

“I’m creating with these guys and relearning things I haven’t done in years. This is probably the first thing I’ve made in 13 years that’s not a photograph,” Wengler said.

Her mixed media piece is a collection of images and headlines related to 2020, featuring a strong pandemic theme. She said she hopes to take up her paintbrush next.

Greg Gwilt, who make sculptures and kitchenware out of clay, said he is grateful for the chance to sell his creations.

“There’s not much financial support right now. But when somebody provides a space like this, it is really important for the area” Gwilt said. “It’s incredible.”

Midgett said they hope to finish remodeling the building and eventually reopen as The Gallery at NoMa. NoMa is a shortening of North Magnolia.

Midgett said the building, opened in 1939, is perfect for a gallery since the former bottling room floor is a wide-open space. There are still a few original decor elements from the original building, including tile work, a wooden staircase and wrought ironwork. There are also at least a couple of built-in elements calling back to its original Coca-Cola roots, including a crest on the front of the building featuring the distinctive Coke bottle, and another on the rooftop patio that reads: ‘Coca-Cola, The Pause that refreshes.’

The building is done in a Mission/Spanish Revival style and was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

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