In 2005, James Dupree bought a dilapidated warehouse and garage. Today, after almost a decade of steady investment and physical labor, the once-blighted space is now a vibrant 8,600-square-foot studio showcasing over 5,000 pieces of art.
In a Philadelphia neighborhood marked by vacant houses and parking lots, Dupree’s studio is a bright spot of entrepreneurship and esteemed cultural value. His paintings have won numerous awards, are displayed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and sell for upwards of $40,000 each. He has hosted and taught public art classes at his studio, and plans to launch a mentorship program for inner-city youth that focuses on fostering entrepreneurial and aesthetic appreciation skills.
However, “I definitely want a grocery store,” says Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell. And, decided the city council, a nice location for this grocery store would be on Dupree’s lot. While the building plan itself is essentially undetermined, with no potential tenant even identified yet, the city sent Dupree a letter to condemn his successful studio.
He has two choices. He can accept the pitiful sum – slightly over ¼ of its most recent appraised value –the city offered and painfully watch his decade of investment be bulldozed away, or he can fight.
He chose the latter. “I built this place up myself,” says Dupree. “I’m not just going to roll over and die.”
The letter was sent in December 2012. To this day, he continues to fight, and he recently painted on his studio’s exterior a mural featuring a grotesque human hand reaching for a building, with a warning below: “HANDS OFF My Business.” The mural and his story have, rightfully, captured national attention, as well as a renewed interest in the greater issue at stake – eminent domain.
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