Delray Beach: Is a renaissance in the making for Artists Alley?

Brenda Gordon works on a commissioned painting at Artists Alley in Delray Beach. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

Related story: Delray seeks grants, partner for plan to revive arts district

By Rich Pollack

The artists who remain in Artists Alley are waiting.
With their galleries and studios open for the monthly Third Thursday event that in the past drew many visitors, artists who have not left — due to higher rents — are waiting for customers.
They’re also waiting for news from Delray Beach’s Community Redevelopment Agency — meeting just across town at City Hall — to hear if it will move forward with stalled plans to transform a nearby 15,000-square-foot warehouse at the south end of the district into an arts incubator.
And they’re waiting to see if an ambitious private/public venture, unveiled that same night before the CRA board, will transform the small colony, adding lofts and studio space for artists as well as a 250-seat performance space, townhomes, restaurants and retail space.
That idea for the proposed multi-use art-centric project — dubbed Artist Alley — was conceived by attorney Joe White, who purchased the row of one-bay warehouses for $4.5 million in a June bankruptcy proceeding.
But subsequent rent increases — doubling in some cases — spawned a migration of several artists away from the colony, which in its heyday was home for as many as 30 artists and sculptors.
White says his goal is not to drive artists away but rather to transform the area into a vibrant arts destination that will bring more customers. In the short term, he’s already made improvements to the parking lot surface and he’s working to enhance safety lighting.
 “We’re trying to invigorate the area,” he said. “We want to give the artists a place where they can be successful.”
Still, the future of Artists Alley remains awash in question marks, with plans for the area in the Pineapple Grove Arts District painted with uncertainty.
“I thought I’d be here for the rest of my days,” says artist Vincent Cacace, a driving force behind the creation of the artists colony. “Now I’m not sure how long I’ll be here.”
Amid the precariousness, however, Artists Alley is far from dead.
“There are still a lot of artists here,” said Susan Romaine, who has a separate studio and now a new gallery she opened with framer Maggie Walker. “There are 10 artists on Northeast Third Avenue alone.”
By Cacace’s count, there are still about 20 artists remaining in the area.
In their new gallery, Walker and Romaine host the works of several of the half dozen or so former Artists Alley tenants who have moved away.
“One of the reasons we opened was to give them space for their work,” Walker said. “We want to showcase the displaced artists.”
Delray Beach’s Arts Garage is also joining in the efforts to showcase the works of displaced artists on the third Thursday of every month in what is being called Artpop!
“We’re going to try to accommodate as many as we can,” said Alyona Ushe, the president and CEO of the Arts Garage.
Also helping to attract people to the area is the Market in the Grove, a collection of craftspeople offering a variety of items, including jewelry, that is set up on Third Avenue on third Thursdays.
Both are seen by artists as complementing Artists Alley’s events and helping to bring arts patrons to the area.
Just last month, Brenda Gordon and Magnus Sebastian moved their Magnus & Gordon Gallery into a larger space closer to Cacace’s gallery.
“We’ve signed a new lease,” Gordon said. “We looked at many different places and it’s still a good deal.”
Despite what seems like a constant evolution, Cacace — even before White’s plans were unveiled — spoke optimistically about Artists Alley’s future.
“This could be an international arts district,” he said. “It has the bones for it.”

Artists Jan Murphy and Sheila Wolff talk shop at Artists Alley. The location of Delray Beach’s popular artists’ colony is under new ownership. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

Jane Smith and Lucy Lazarony contributed to this story.

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