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04.01.09

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End of a Street?

By Gretchen Giles


Despite public outcry and a brief civic reprieve, artists at Santa Rosa's A Street Studios are packing up and preparing to vacate the building where most of them have worked for over a decade.

The dynamic space, which houses artist studios in the back and whose front exhibit space just a year ago became the Gallery of Sea and Heaven—showcasing work by the developmentally disabled clients served by Becoming Independent—has been the cornerstone of Santa Rosa's efforts to create an arts district. Formerly the A Street Gallery, this warren of creative endeavor has hosted cutting-edge art exhibits by emerging and midcareer Bay Area artists of the sort not easily seen elsewhere in Sonoma County. The space has hosted twice-yearly street parties that support area businesses, and its presence has helped to reclaim the adjacent Juilliard Park from drug dealers and gang activity.

It all comes down to earthquake readiness and a crack in the wall that city inspectors believe portends the building's immediate demise. But artist Andrea Hibbard, who held the lease on the place for some 10 years and who has managed both the studio spaces and the art gallery before it went to Becoming Independent, knows differently. "It's been there since 1969," she says of the crack.

Seismic upgrades have been done to the building, which is owned by Lee Montgomery of Pleasanton's Amador Properties, but city officials have deemed the place an immediate threat to tenants and visitors. The artists could do retrofitting themselves, and Hibbard says that she has been touched by the number of offers for pro bono work that have poured from the community, but ultimately A Street tenants felt that they could not accept such goodwill offers without knowing their fate.

"We've been on a year-to-year lease for a decade," Hibbard explains. "We've rolled the dice, and without being able to know for sure if we can stay next year, we would just be using these people's help and additional funds to improve a building we don't know that we can have." The building will be vacant by mid-April.

One small light is the possibility that Becoming Independent would purchase the place, should it come up for sale. "It's a dream spot for them," Hibbard says, "being in the middle of A Street, next to the park. It's gentle here, and people really enjoy this project. Towards the end of the year we were really seeing a fusion of camaraderie. It was an experiment that was working."

Buoyed by the possibility that BI might be able to step in and replace the artists and reopen the gallery, Hibbard is nonetheless saddened by an era's end. "It's like death," she says with a short laugh. "You always know it's going to happen, but when it does, it's a drag."


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