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New Arts Center Unveiled

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Starting the center was an insurance policy of sorts. As tenants at Shockoe Bottom Arts Center, Bassfield, Kirby and a host of other artists came to fear they might not have their studio and gallery spaces for long.



For more than a year the future of Shockoe Bottom Arts Center has been unclear. Center co-owner Rusty Davis has been embroiled in a court battle with Secam Inc., which owns the 70,000-square-foot building. Secam wants to develop the sprawling green warehouse into upscale apartments. The Center would like to stay past its lease, which terminates in July 2003.



Amid uncertainty, Bassfield and Kirby decided to go off on their own. In March they discovered a 10,500-square-foot building next to the West End Antiques Mall. "We had to act incredibly quickly," Kirby says. They signed a lease and opened May 1.



Crossroads Arts Center also houses the Crossroads Gallery of Art and a cafe. To manage the gallery, Bassfield and Kirby hired Petie Bogen-Garrett, a graphic artist, photographer, exhibition coordinator and colleague from Shockoe Bottom Arts Center.



"It's a totally different approach," Bassfield says of Crossroads. "It's all about art," he says. "Not academics or society — just art and people." Then he offers another thrust of the place: marketing. Crossroads will promote artists and their work, and provide them with the tools to sell it. "It's all about success," he says.



Success has been slim lately for Shockoe Bottom Arts Center. On May 10 the court ruled that Davis must pay Secam for back rent it claimed he owes. Davis says he's spent $40,000 in court and lawyer fees since the disputes began.



"I don't know what we're going to do," Davis says. "People don't want to hear that, and it's the most frustrating part."



Last month's art opening garnered more submissions than ever, he says, and it attracted 2,000 people — a record. The Center has some time to figure things out. By then, Davis hopes to have an alternative, more affordable site. (He pays $7,800 a month to rent the Franklin Street location.)



Davis understands why Bassfield, Kirby and others felt the need to leave Shockoe Bottom. "I let a lot of them out of their leases early to do it," Davis says. "This kind of thing happens in SoHo all the time." — BRANDON WALTERS





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