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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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St. Pete neighborhoods seek arts designation

ST. PETERSBURG — Local artist Dianne Caton works from a converted garage in her Historic Kenwood home, firing clay vases and sculptures in a kiln and then layering on intricate patterns of horsehair inspired by Maori forms from her native New Zealand.

The 2012 Mainsail merit award winner would like to use her studio to showcase her work to potential buyers, but city rules forbid artists from opening up their homes to customers unless the neighborhood is designated as an artist’s enclave.

Both Historic Kenwood and Old Southeast are seeking that designation; but neither has been able to gather enough signatures on petitions demonstrating support from as least two-thirds of neighborhood property owners, as required by city rules. City leaders next month are expected to lower the threshold to a more attainable 50 percent.

“It’s a bar that is so high, it’s almost impossible to meet,” said City Council Chairman Karl Nurse.

The artist’s enclave designation was added to city codes to help artists and encourage the growth of arts in the city. It builds on the idea of art as an economic driver for neighborhoods because people want to live in artistic or bohemian communities.

Once established, artists in the district could see as many as four customers per day at their homes and post small signs outside advertising their work. It also allows for occasional arts events, such as open houses, street performances and block parties.

But no neighborhood has been able to meet the 75-percent target since the designation was established in 2010.

Historic Kenwood Neighborhood Association volunteers have collected roughly 800 petitions of support from the community, but that represents only roughly half of the 1,600 properties in the area. The petitions must be signed by property owners, meaning renters cannot be included.

“We have absentee owners who live out of state,” said John Seibert, the neighborhood association president. “We’ve mailed copies and got no reply. We’ve knocked on the same doors over and over again, and no one answers.”

Kenwood is already home to many artists, some attracted by its proximity to the city’s Warehouse Arts District, Seibert said. Becoming an artists’s enclave designation would make that snowball, he said.

“For many people, that makes it a more desirable place to live,” he said “It attracts new residents and makes for a better assortment of community and neighbors.”

More than 80 artists live in the Old Southeast neighborhood, located south of the city’s downtown. That includes Bob Devin Jones, co-owner of Studio @620, a visual and performing arts center on First Avenue South downtown.

Volunteers from the neighborhood association there have collected more than 200 petitions supporting an artist’s enclave.

The designation would help make the neighborhood more diverse and could help raise home values, said association President Pete Olivares.

“The hope is that it will spur artists to move into the neighborhood,” he said.

Caton, the ceramic artist, said it will always be difficult for artists to make a living but that the enclave designation would make a difference.

“You could have little open-houses, with wine and cheese,” she said. “It wouldn’t bother the neighbors at all — it’s just an opportunity to show your work.”

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