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Gallery’s Demise Blamed on “Oversight”

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What the gallery didn’t know was that in order to hold large public events like fund-raisers, it needed a special certificate of occupancy. Karen Fitzhugh, founder and director of Polkadot, says she was never told of the requirement by any city official or gallery operator.

“It wasn’t the city’s fault at all,” she says, accepting the blame for what she calls unintentional oversight. Now she hopes the snafu will stir dialogue among nonprofits about logistical matters, adding: “I think it’s people’s lack of knowledge about city programs.”

In its brief incarnation, Polkadot gained a reputation as innovative for drawing in audiences that included the homeless and at-risk youth. Its programming in visual arts, theater, music and poetry was accessible to seasoned artists and amateurs alike.

“Polkadot was founded on the notion that art should be wide open,” says musician Tim Harding, who coordinated some of the gallery’s events. “It was very inspiring, like a blank canvas.”

The gallery’s permit oversight has been a costly one. The six weeks leading up to March 15 — the expiration date of the gallery’s free lease — were to have been its busiest, with numerous shows and fund-raisers planned.

CAPS, which helps Richmond Police with property-related infractions, informed the gallery that if it held any more events it would be shut down. It has remained closed. But a collaboration has surfaced.

Its new best friend, Artworks, at 320 Hull Street, has agreed to serve as host to its already scheduled events. The Polkadot Pity Party (PPP) will be held Feb. 28 from 8 p.m. to midnight. There is a $5 suggested donation.

Despite setbacks, Fitzhugh is telling supporters Polkadot’s future is bright. Harding says that’s because Richmond is hungry for an atypical gallery like Polkadot. “We become complacent when there isn’t a place like this,” Harding says. Of the city shutting it down, he says, “It’s been a rallying point.” — Brandon Walters



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