Education and art, squared

Barbara Fife has opened up an arts education and exhibition center in Ocala’s Chelsea Square Plaza.

Home » Arts & Entertainment
Posted June 22, 2023 | By Julie Garisto

Barbara Fife runs the new Chelsea Art Center in Ocala. [Ocala Calligraphy Guild]

“Once in a Blue Moon”
Watercolor by Barbara Fife, who runs the new Chelsea Art Center.

Barbara Fife has been an artist for as long as she remembers but worked as a teacher to pay the bills.

Originally from Michigan, Fife retired in 2001 after a fulfilling career teaching science and technology to high schoolers. She moved to Ocala with her husband, Buck Fife, and shifted her focus back to artwork for the first time in decades. 

Fife has been active with the Ocala Art Group and the Ocala Calligraphy Guild and spends her free time painting and crafting calligraphy, along with other creative pursuits such as papercraft, sewing, quilting, and fabric arts. 

Sadly, Buck passed away around a year ago, but she has kept busy making art, working through her grief and remaining positive and productive, painting watercolors and dabbling in a little experimentation with her strokes.

Also, the teacher in her couldn’t be abated. A desire to create and educate inspired the educator with a Ph.D. to open the Chelsea Art Center, located in the Chelsea Square complex on East Silver Springs Boulevard. 

With 4,705 square feet of space to accommodate visual arts and crafts workshops and other meetups, Fife’s new “maker’s haven” provides a multipurpose nexus for visual arts creativity that will be used for group lessons and other experiences centered on enrichment and fellowship in the arts community. 

A still-life drawing student works on her piece at the Chelsea Art Center. [Courtesy of Barbara Fife]

“This week, I have one excellent teacher starting who has a master’s degree in art,” Fife said of Michelle Curry. “She’s teaching 10-week courses in watercolor, acrylic, oil, colored pencil and drawing.”

Other instructors include Sean Mullins (oil painting), Melle Broderick (gift tags and papercraft), Dan Willcox (“Paint like Bob Ross”), Joni Hoffman (“Zentangle”), Linda Ross (bookmaking), Ramey Vogel (upcycling), Judy Denning (decorative, “dot” painting) and Anda Chance (colored pencils). 

Fees range for classes and are priced as affordably as possible, Fife said, clarifying that the Chelsea Art Center is not a nonprofit. 

“I started it as a business; not because I’m taking any money back from it. I just want it to become self-sustaining,” she emphasized.

Class sizes are small to allow instructors to give individual and personalized attention to participants. Each student works at their own 5-foot table.

Chelsea Square Plaza, the Old English-style strip mall that surrounds the facility, has become a hotbed of Ocala DIY culture, offering unique locally owned shops and businesses such as C&C Fine Arts Gallery, The Peacock Cottage, Vintage Toys, Design by Daniel, and Chelsea Coffee Co.

“I had actually been looking for a space for years,” Fife shared, adding that she was scouting out locations for the Ocala Art Group, which was a challenge. 

Artist Michelle Curry teaches teens through adults, all levels, new to experienced, in three 10-week courses at the Chelsea Art Center. [Courtesy of Barbara Fife]

That is, until a visit with friends Carlynne Hershberger and Cheryl Ritter at their new C&C Fine Arts Gallery paid off with luck and serendipity. While visiting the new gallery, Fife learned that a space was available for lease in the center’s “anchor” spot, most recently occupied by Legends Vintage Goods, and before that by Bobby’s Steakhouse. 

“The plaza is two minutes from the Appleton, two minutes from the library, and it’s very charming,” Fife said. “It has got sort of a Greenwich Village vibe to it, and I have great neighbors here. Plus, there’s lots of parking, and it’s handicap accessible. I think it’s going to work out well.”

The new Chelsea Art Center has a kitchen and a wide counter for special events. [Courtesy of Barbara Fife]

As a lifelong educator, she’s in the habit of helping youth. One idea is to help students who are homeschooled. 

“There are a lot of homeschooled children in the Ocala area,” she said. “They’re looking for certain programs. So, if parents come to me and say, ‘We would like a class in a certain medium,’ then I’ll find a teacher who can provide that.”

Fife added that she’d like to provide a space for student art exhibitions, too. 

“There are a lot of other things that are directly and indirectly related to art. Someone mentioned to me yesterday that the Chelsea Art Center would be a great setting to host an evening salon where people come to discuss different art, ideas, philosophy and poetry. It all goes together.”

And what would Fife say to a prospective student who claims to have zero artistic talent? 

“Oh, that happens every day practically,” she said. “People come in and they say, well, I can’t draw a straight line, or I can’t do this …, they have this preconceived notion that they need to create a masterpiece on their first try, but they just need to get in there and do it and find their own voice, because everybody has a different song to sing.”

For more information on the Chelsea Art Center, visit To learn more about Fife’s art, visit

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