By ANDREA SHAY
WRITER / PHOTOGRAPHER
June 2, 2016 — Bradenton’s eclectic community known as the Village of the Arts has seen a recent renaissance due to an influx of new renters and property owners in the area’s southern nine blocks. The northernmost nine blocks —affectionately known to locals as the “North Village” — was the first area developed when the community got its start in 1999. However, the “South Village,” made up of the southernmost nine blocks, remained less developed, with fewer shops and less visitor traffic.
When the Village was started in 1999, it was designated as an 18-block area. Annie Russini, the Village’s founding executive director, along with the fledgling community, focused on revitalizing the northern nine blocks first, with the goal of developing the rest of the area next.
Recruited by the City of Bradenton’s downtown development authority, Russini moved to the area in the late 1990s from Towles Court, a well-known artist district in Sarasota. When Russini originally arrived, “there was nothing here,” she said. “It was a run-down, blighted, inner-city neighborhood.” According to Russini, there had been no revitalization efforts for 22 years prior to her move.
In 1998, the city’s new mayor requested that she assist in creating what was to become Bradenton’s Village of the Arts. At that time, it had been simply designated as an “economic overlay area,” government-speak for a blighted area that’s been specifically designated for redevelopment as a community.
Over the next 18 years, the area continued to develop. “Artists aren’t afraid to move to an area that isn’t considered picturesque,” said Bobby Meyers, who currently serves on the Village’s board of directors and has lived here for 44 years. He loves that the area hasn’t become commercialized, but Meyers acknowledges that the area has downsides and isn’t immune to urban decay. “We’ve lost some of the older houses to dilapidation,” he says, but new homes and shops are constantly replacing older ones.
The Dude and Mary’s Art of Life and Music on 11th Street West is one new gallery. Owners Chad Clifford and Mary Fragapene originally moved from upstate New York because they got tired of the long, cold winters. They first looked at other houses but kept coming back to the house that eventually became their gallery.
“Our neighbors have been so great, so welcoming and embracing,” said Fragapene, who sees the area as “one of very few places in the country where you can become a part of a community like this at an affordable price.”
She’s found that the area reminds her of New York, where people may not necessarily know their next-door neighbors but may have neighbors they see on the street or at nearby shops daily. “This has the same feel,” she said.
The Village of the Arts hosts an ArtWalk Weekend on the first Friday and Saturday of every month, where galleries, shops and cafes are open to visitors.
The next Artwalk is scheduled for Friday, June 3, and Saturday June 4, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., respectively. For more information, visit www.villageofthearts.com.