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Art and Bricks and Mortar

by Jason Hart The Riverwest Artists Association has been around since 1980, but you can forgive yourself for not knowing about them. Six years ago they were forced to move out of their location on Fratney and Auer because of a leaking roof. Since then, they’ve been working out of a post office box. That will all change on Friday, July 25, when their new gallery opens at 926 E. Center St. Due to six years of saving, some grants, and some generous donations, the RAA was able to purchase the building that used to house the Jazz Gallery, which was once one of the nation’s top jazz clubs. The building will mostly be a gallery with rotating shows, but it will also host plays, poetry readings and films. In addition to the gallery space, the building has apartments that the RAA will rent to artists. “As real estate prices in Riverwest have gone up, a lot of artists have had to leave. We want to establish a foothold that isn’t going to go away because we own the building,” said Mark Lawson, RAA Treasurer and long-time member. The space will open during July’s Gallery Night with a show by painter Ron Bitticks, the original founder of the RAA. In addition to Bitticks’s work, 20 other artists who are past or current RAA members will display their work. Gallery night hours will be 5 pm to 9 pm. The next day, Saturday, July 26, will be the official grand opening, from 12 pm to 5 pm. There are plans in the works to make the grand opening a large event, with music and film. “Our mission will be to provide opportunities to people in the arts to show works, to bring art to new people, and to bring new things to the neighborhood,” said Lawson. The RAA also sponsors ArtWalk, the annual tour of Riverwest artist studios held the first weekend of October.