Village of the Arts gets new welcome center

myoung@bradenton.comMarch 21, 2014 

BRADENTON -- Webster's Dictionary defines determination as continuing to try to accomplish a difficult goal.

Jerry and Zoe Von Averkamp displayed their fair share of determination in purchasing the property at 1125 12th St. W. in the Village of the Arts next door to their Divine Excess Folk Art gallery. It took seven years of waiting after the previous owner died and the property slipped into probate.

While the couple showed what determination means by fulfilling their goal about a month ago, what they are doing with the property showcases the spirit of Village of the Arts and the community's ongoing revitalization effort.

During a Village of the Arts Plan to Act project meeting this week at Renaissance on Ninth, multiple organizations united to revitalize the village and the 14th Street West

overlay district and the 12th Street West property came up for discussion.

The probate property was cited as an example of the problem of abandoned homes in the community. Jerry Von Averkamp made an unscheduled appearance onstage to announce he and his wife had purchased the property. Then, to a hearty round of applause and cheers, he announced the house will be renovated and turned into the Herbie Rose Village of the Arts Welcome Center.

The Artists Guild of Manatee is the guiding agency for the Village of the Arts . Zoe Von Averkamp, vice president of the board, said the nonprofit guild does not have enough money to make something like that happen,

"So we were hopeful that we would be able to do it for them," she said.

She and her husband were originally interested in the property for an entirely different reason.

"We had various ideas along the way, but the most important thing was to protect the property because it's the prime corner in the village," she said. "We did not want to see that corner bought by some slumlord or house flipper and, of course, we wanted to protect our own property next door."

As talks about village revitalization turned to real efforts a couple of years ago, and with the Plan to Act project starting to get off the ground, Von Averkamp said the decision on what to do became much easier.

"That's what led us to the point on deciding to make it a welcome center," she said. "We started to think that this was the right time."

It is also time for a much-needed office for the guild. Von Averkamp said the Artists Guild of Manatee Board has been told the house will be divided into a welcome center at the front entrance and a guild office in the back.

"It's something they've needed for years," she said. "The city of Bradenton is very involved with the revitalization and they have been pushing the guild to be a more viable institution. You can't do that without a home and permanent address, but that's what the guild has now."

The house is in better condition than expected for sitting empty for seven years. It was built in 1959, so cement block was used in the construction.

"I believe that's what saved it because most of the homes in the village are from the 1920s and '30s," Von Averkamp said. "I don't think one of those homes would have survived."

The roof will have to be replaced after a nearby oak tree grew through it. The couple is taking care of all renovation costs and hopes to open in October in time for the kickoff to art season.

Naming the facility after Rose also was an easy decision for the Von Averkamps.

Rose is a nationally acclaimed watercolor artist and former teacher at the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota. The Jamaican-born artist opened his first gallery in his home country in 1968, and moved to Bradenton where he is credited for founding what has become the Village of the Arts. His presence and name recognition began to draw other artists into the community. Several years ago, Rose was named honorary mayor of the village by Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston.

Rose is now in an assisted-living facility in Palmetto in failing health. His wife, Graciella, also an artist, is running the Rose-Giles Studio, 923 13th St. W.

She said it was a wonderful honor for her husband to receive, but was not in a frame of mind to provide a comment at this time.

Said Zoe: "He's very beloved and we knew it was the right thing to do."

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