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What happens when a building housing a community of artists is sold?

The artists have to pull their roots out of the ground and find somewhere else to practice their craft.

In the last issue of the Weekender, I brought you a story on the Benson Burner art show. In the story, Susie Rodriguez informed us that she (and all the other tenants in the Benson Building) had been informed that the building had been sold. At that point Rodriguez didn’t know if the new owners would be compassionate to the artists and let them stay, but unfortunately this was not the case.

Right after the last Weekender went to print, we found out that all of the artists would have to leave the building by the end of the year, leaving nearly 20 artists displaced.

This is very disconcerting for all of the artists. Frank Salazar and Rick Baker just completed renovating their studio on the fourth floor into something that looks like a New York City loft. What took them two months to finish will now only be usable for the next two months.

“So much went into converting this space,” said Salazar. “We worked for so many hours, and now it will all be gone.”

Another shared space is room 355, which houses Brian Damon, Mike Frizzell, Debra Knealling and Jeanguy Richard, most of who have been in the spot for a year and a half.

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Brian Damon

Brian Damon in front of one of his works.

“It was a great opportunity getting into the Benson Building,” said Damon. “Michael, Debra and myself were all non-traditional students at Briar Cliff. We decided to get together and that is how this space was born.

“I’m very disappointed that we have to leave. This has been such a wonderful space to come and share with other artists. There’s a sense of unity. The alternative for me now will be going back to work in my basement at home.”

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Mike Frizzell

Mike Frizzell with his portrait of Chris Cornell.

“I moved (to the Benson Building) because I wanted to be part of the art community,” said Frizzell. “I’m not happy we have to move out. We like being here, we like the location and like to be downtown. It’s nice being close to the Vangarde and the rest of what happens downtown. We’re all looking for a shared spot. All the artists I’ve talked to want to stick together. It is unfortunate the building was sold out from underneath people. Some of the artists have move here within the past couple weeks. Nobody knew that the building was for sale or that this was coming.”

Mary Sterk has been making art in the Benson Building for six years and now has to say goodbye to her space.

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Mary Sterk

Mary Sterk in front of a piece of her art.

“I chose to come her 100 percent because of the other artists in the building,” said Sterk. “I wanted to be a part of the collective group and take part in the shows. As for having to move out, I’m terribly disappointed and frustrated in the lack of communication of how the information was rolled out to the tenants. I’m hoping that as a group we can figure out the next step and maybe even have it be better than it is now, but I hope to stay together in some format. Sioux City has a vibrant art community. I hope the community reaches out and comes together to help the artists.”

Terri Parish McGaffin has been in the Benson Building for the last seven years and will miss the view from her studio.

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Terri Parish McGaffin

Terri Parish McGaffin in front of a new piece.

“I have a view of the clock tower in the daytime,” said McGaffin. “I can see the clouds as they cross the sky. I can even see the big guitar on top of the Hard Rock. Honestly and pragmatically this little space was affordable to rent. I think all of us thought this place was too good to last. I think as intelligent capitalists, the new owners decided the thing to do was buy the building, kick out the current tenants, fix it up and get higher rents.

“I’m sad, but I’m aware that since there are so many artists here, we should find something together. Unity coming from adversity happens in many ways.”

Will some party in Sioux City come along to help these artists in their time of need? Only the future can tell, but whatever the outcome, this will not quash the vibrant art scene of our awesome Midwestern town.

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