Norfolk VA Artists Displaced by Explosion


Terri E. — at World Trade Center.

Dozens of artists were displaced from their studios when the building, home to the nonprofit D’ART Center, was damaged in an explosion last April. Six months later it’s still unclear what caused the explosion and where the artists will be able to stay.  Some have been working out of the PNC Bank building nearby, but now they must leave by the end of the month. Others work out of home studios but many are somewhere in between, or out of options.

The force of the explosion destroyed water and electrical services and rendered portions of the Selden Arcade building structurally unsafe.  The blast also damaged the works of several artists.  Luckily no one was hurt.

Before the explosion in April, it was once home to the City of Norfolk’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs and the Bureau of Special Events. Proud tenant’s included D’ART’s interactive arts community of over 40 artist studios, Starbucks and one of Norfolk’s most popular eateries, d’Egg. Also located in the building; the Slover Library and Cuisine & Company.

The month of April and the Selden Arcade have an interesting story to tell as it was built on the site of the Academy of Music, which began construction in April 1873, opened in September 1880 and later destroyed by fire in April of 1930. A year later the Selden opened to the public on April 28, 1931. Then it was named to honor Dr. William Selden, one-time owner of the property on which the Academy and Selden were later constructed only to be the victim of fire again in the month of April in 2015. Can you say ….Straaaannnge ?

Shortly after having to witness the City’s Fire Department working hard to rescue pieces from the blaze, the d’Art Center began asking people to buy individual memberships for support, raffling off a painting that was damaged in the explosion but later restored. In an interview with a local paper, Amy McKay of D’art Center spoke out.

“The thing about artists is we’re always there out in the community, doing whatever we can to make — keep — our communities vibrant, so, right now, we need your help,” said watercolor painter Amy McKay with The D’ART Center.

“This is the extension of a person. It’s not stock material coming in from a manufacturer. I mean this is hours and months of work,” said McKay. “The investment is far beyond monetary. It’s, it’s an energy that has built up, you know, in the artists, and then, output onto canvas, I mean, we have jewelry artists, painters, and sculptors.”

During their last ArtWalk, artists seem nervous when talking about having to move when their time runs out at the PNC Bank Buidling.

Raven Herrera a local artists who does clay sculptures, kept up conversations with a passersby who stopped to admire and support her work.

“Neither of these will get fired,” Herrera said of the sculptures. “There’s no place for them to go…. I’ll probably recycle them. It’s really kind of sad.”

Preparing for Stockley and other art shows this year has been a challenge. Painter Vonnie Whitworth said, “I’ve been distracted I’m always preparing for the next show…. The fact that I’ve been out of my studio has made it much more difficult this year.”

Not having a place for artists to show and sell art hurts everyone financially, not to mention the materials and products that were destroyed, but the artists also lost the opportunity for walk-in visitors and the spiritual connection they built inside the studio in which they create.

Still during the ArtWalk, artists managed to create an awesome atmosphere with music from a band on stage drifting through Stockley Gardens, home to the annual Spring Stockley Gardens Arts Festival, on Sunday afternoon as people stopped to chat with one another or point out a particular piece.


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