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Anne Hart opens her own Broad Street Gallery. 

Dream Building

Anne Hart wants to change the stereotype that all artists are poor and struggling. "We don't all cut off our ears," says Hart, an artist and photographer. To prove her point, Hart, a Richmond native, opened Visual Art Studio at 208 W. Broad St., the latest addition to the city's growing gallery district. Visual Art Studio celebrates its grand opening this Friday, Nov. 3. The building itself is her latest piece of work, Hart says. And it's been a long time in the making. As a child, Hart's parents encouraged her interest in art, but they saw it as just a hobby. "I wasn't supposed to be an artist," she says. "I was just supposed to be well-rounded. My parents wanted me to study law or business." But Hart went on to study art at Virginia Commonwealth University, graduating in 1990. She subsequently studied art in France, co-founded Arts on the Square in 1991, a group of galleries in the 6th Street Marketplace, and worked in the control room at FOX-35. When Arts on the Square closed in 1994, she channeled her creative energies into remodeling a house with her father. "We put the house on the market with the idea that we'd do another a project together," she says. The two hoped to find a new property to renovate and turn into a studio for Hart. But her father became ill in 1994 and died in January 1995. Rather than giving up on their dream, Hart was more determined than ever to establish the Visual Art Studio. She chanced upon the right location one afternoon while dropping off film at Richmond Camera on West Broad Street. Most people wouldn't have thought much of the two-story building across the street. It had been boarded up and abandoned for years. But Hart saw it as the perfect location. "This was considered a worthless property," she says. "No one would lend me money on it. It was a dump. There was no back door. Street people were wandering in and out." But Hart had an offer on the house she and her dad had renovated, and she thought, "Why couldn't I do it?" Hart says she had to do a substantial amount of creative financing to buy the building, finally obtaining a loan from the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority's Section 108 loan program, after pursuing it for a year and a half. "Because I had their backing, banks would lend me money," she says. Hart resigned from her job at FOX 35 and focused all of her efforts on renovating her new studio — and home. Rather than trying to pay a mortgage and a lease, Hart had the building rezoned so she could live there and pay only one mortgage. She moved in in the summer of 1997 and spent two years without air conditioning or heat. During that time, she worked with architect Ben Cox of Marcell Wright Cox & Smith, who drew up plans and helped her find the right people to help with permits and bids. After three-and-a-half years, the Broad Street building isn't recognizable as the same "dump" Hart fell in love with while dropping off film. Besides Hart's own paintings and prints, Visual Art Studio features works from other local artists. "I'll be changing artists on a seasonal basis," she says. "They come in by invitation. I don't want to be about curating, I want to create work." The studio's collection includes sculptures by Lawrence Hawthorne Jr., photos by Rob Morgan and paintings by Asif Sikder. By working hard to achieve her dream of owning her own studio, Hart has proven the naysayers wrong: You can be an artist without starving. And despite studying art instead of something potentially more lucrative, Hart turned out to be quite the
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