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Soon to be displaced, artists make plans

Local artist Mehmet Altug hopes to turn this former Health Department building in an affordable South Side neighborhood into a collective studio space for artists.

With the closing of Shockoe Bottom Arts Center scheduled for July (the building's owner wants to develop the property into upscale apartments), the situation is especially worrisome to the 200 or so artists who will be displaced.

Rusty Davis and his mother, artist Deanna Brizendine, founded the center in 1994 for local artists to show their work to the public in affordable studio space.

Now Davis is working to move his arts center to downtown Petersburg. He'd love to stay in Richmond but says he can't afford to buy here, especially after the legal fees he's incurred in disputes with Secam Inc., the owner of the building that houses the Shockoe Bottom Arts Center.

"It's not a matter of wanting to go to Petersburg," Davis says, but it is the best deal. Development officials in Petersburg have courted him, he says, hoping to use the arts center to help revitalize their downtown.

Davis explored a move to the Manchester area, he says, but was out-priced there. Other artists from his center, who are interested in smaller studio spaces than Davis, are also looking to Manchester for reasonable rates.

Sculpted-furniture designer Mehmet S. Altug recently submitted a bid to the city to purchase a former Health Department building at 1312 Bainbridge St. Altug proposes to turn the 15,000-square-foot building into studios for about 40 artists, a gallery and facilities for neighborhood art classes.

"We need a space to work," Altug says. "I want to buy and own the building so nobody can kick us out."

Richmond developer Tom Robinson says he is working with other artists interested in Manchester, and that at least one has submitted a contract on a building. He sees Manchester as Richmond's last undeveloped neighborhood and hopes artists can blaze a trail toward its development — before prices rise.

— Jessica Ronky

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