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Temple of Love

Artist Heide Trepanier fights city zoning laws with a religious twist.

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After months of tangling with the city’s zoning and code enforcement departments, artist Heide Trepanier found divine deliverance.

She’s become an ordained minister and turned LoveBomb, her free-spirited art space in Manchester, into a church. It’s now called the Temple of the Cosmic Mothership.

“You can call me reverend, yeah,” she says, smiling.

The church is nondenominational. The congregation gathers on Sundays to garden and drink beer. About a hundred people are associated with the temple and its activities, Trepanier says.

“I feel like there are freedoms out there given to organized religion,” she says, “and I think that those freedoms need to be extended to anybody that wants to assemble.” In other words, she says, Richmond’s art community should have the same privileges as its religious community.

LoveBomb was a sometimes-raucous art and performance space consisting of a drafty brick workshop and a fenced yard on West 21st Street, in a residential part of Manchester. Soon after LoveBomb’s launch in 2013, Trepanier says, the city went after her for failing to meet zoning and building code regulations.

Now that it’s a church, the space complies with the area’s residential zoning. To bring the building up to code, Trepanier is getting the help of students and church members to install drywall, exit signs and a bathroom that’s accessible by people with disabilities.

Reincarnated as a temple, the space will be quieter, with no big shows or bands, Trepanier says: “It’ll just be art and community.” Students from Virginia Commonwealth University’s kinetic imaging department recently showed an exhibit of GIFs — ultra-short, looping digital videos. University of Richmond art students are holding their senior exhibition in the space May 1, and a craft show is planned for later this year.

On Saturday, the temple was host to Brooklyn artist Cupid Ojala, a nattily dressed young man with a fedora and a leather valise. Speaking in a soft tenor voice and wielding a fountain pen, Ojala issued love prescriptions to all comers while rain pattered on the metal roof.

The city hasn’t hassled Trepanier since the temple opened, she says: “They can’t say anything. If they do, they’re really infringing on my religious rights.”

But she knows not every artist or small business owner can solve such conflicts by becoming ordained. In November, Trepanier began gathering signatures on a petition asking the city to create a position for an innovation administrator who could help people navigate City Hall’s zoning and code enforcement process. The petition on change.org has 449 signatures. When it hits 500, Trepanier says, she’ll submit it to City Council. S

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