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ArtSouth still looking for a new home

If you were planning to attend the monthly ArtSouth art walk in next Saturday, you may want to make other plans.

The African sculptures, resident artists' ceramic pieces and students' pastel drawings that filled the nonprofit’s arts group’s former home have been packed up and stuffed inside a Naranja storage facility.

ArtSouth moved from the facility it called home for 13 years after a for-profit college developer bought the neoclassical building that used to be a Baptist church.

Board members of the nonprofit group said that developer Ernesto Perez hiked the rent to $15 per square foot, amounting to about $22,000 per month – an increase ArtSouth could not afford. Previously, ArtSouth paid about $6,000 monthly.

“It was very tough,” said ArtSouth board Chairwoman Janis Klein-Young, speaking about the move. “You are talking about packing up 13 years of art history and paintings in storage.”

ArtSouth was founded in 2000 and opened its doors to the public a year later. Clay artist Ellie Schneiderman and attorney Irvin Stanley Levine founded the arts group as a way to proliferate culture in South Miami-Dade.

Over the years, it grew in its downtown Homestead home to include 50 artists in residence; a dance studio; a sewing studio; a computer lab; a ceramic facility; and after-school and summer-camp programs.

But now, without a home, the number of ArtSouth’s resident artists has dwindled to about 12. "After the rumors spread across Homestead that the building was being sold, a lot of our artists in residence found other studio space," said Klein-Young.

The monthly art walks and private adult education classes have been canceled and so have the dance and theater education programs.

“But we didn’t want to let the kids down,” added Klein-Young.

A vital mission of ArtSouth is to expose children who come from low-income households or live in homeless shelters to art. So ArtSouth has dispatched resident artists to teach at Miami Bridge, an emergency shelter for youths; and at Cutler Ridge Middle School.

ArtSouth had hoped to find a new home, or at least an office space to house its clerical staff, by its move-out deadline of Dec. 31. To help with the moving costs, rent and security deposit for a new facility, the nonprofit relied on financial support Perez had promised.

“We have actually said, “We will help you folks move, whether it would be $5,000, $10,000 to move into your new location,” Perez told the Homestead City Council at its October meeting. “Not only that, we have also considered to support them in the future. Our intent is not to hurt anyone, our intent is to make everybody prosper.”

But, said ArtSouth board secretary Beatriz Herrmann, when it came time for ArtSouth to move out, a Dade Medical College representative told the arts group it will not receive financial assistance.

“We planned on being able to use that money to put down for a new center instead of going into storage,” Klein-Young told the Miami Herald.

ArtSouth staffers had found lots and churches where the nonprofit could have set up at least a temporary office, she added.

“We counted on that money," she said. "Otherwise, everything was over our budget. We have nothing in our bank now."

Another promise Perez is said to have broken: He also told the City Council he is not charging ArtSouth rent. Soon after ArtSouth reached out to the Miami Herald in hopes that publicity would help the nonprofit find a new home, Perez cashed rent checks worth about $18,000, Herrmann said.

Messages left for Perez and for Dade Medical College Chief Financial Officer Chris Gressett were not returned.

Perez did not give ArtSouth the financial assistance, board embers say, because he was angered by the negative publicity that followed after ArtSouth reached out to the media. He has pleaded not guilty.

Perez, who remains a majority owner of Dade Medical College, resigned from his position as CEO of the school after he was charged with failing to disclose prior arrests.

Dade Medical College has a campus in downtown Homestead, across the street from ArtSouth. Perez had told the council that he wants to retrofit the former ArtSouth building so that mom-and-pop businesses can set up shop there.

As a nonprofit, ArtSouth relies on state and county grants, which do not cover rent costs. To cover its rent, the arts group counted on fees collected from adult-education classes, and on resident artists who rented studios in the downtown building.

For now, ArtSouth hopes to find a temporary office space for its staffers. Art pieces, craft supplies, a kiln and a copy machine are in three storage spaces in Naranja at a charge of about $160 per month for each storage unit, said Klein-Young. The group has rented three units.

“Basically, we have all the materials and the teaching staff,” she said. “The only thing we do not have is a facility.”

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