West Philly artist fighting to save his studio; big event on Saturday

April 25, 2014

Photo from

Photo from

For the last nine years, the once-ramshackle warehouse at 3617-19 Haverford Avenue has been a visage of artistic freedom—an ode to unrest and optimism demarcated by its intricate mural of kaleidoscope colors and intimate swirls.

Known as Dupree Studios, the sprawling 8,646 square foot art space is the product of Mantua-based artist James Dupree, who bought the lot in 2005 with a vision to transform it into a vibrant haven for creativity and passion. Since then, it has been a place where the 63-year-old Dupree has worked and taught, churning out art piece after art piece for commissions, exhibitions, and large scale projects—some of which are featured in institutions like the Philadelphia Museum of Art and over 5,000­­ of which lie behind the studio’s front doors.

But, for the last year, Dupree has been fighting to keep it all in his hands after the City of Philadelphia seized and condemned the property in a two-block eminent domain grab as part of efforts to revitalize the Mantua neighborhood.

JamesDupreeDupree considers this nothing more than an abuse of eminent domain, though, and is pushing back hard—taking the fight to the courts and the streets. His artistic acts of defiance include an exhibit debuted at the studio in March, titled “Stolen Dreams in the Promised Zone”, and a documentary produced by Art Above Reality.

And now, Dupree is opening his studio’s doors this Saturday, April 26th “to show the public what the City of Philadelphia plans to tear down in the name of ‘revitalization’.” The seven-hour event, titled “Save Dupree Studios,” will start at 2 p.m. and feature guest speakers, musical acts, DJs, mural painting, spin art for kids, a book signing, and guided tours at 3 p.m., 5 p.m., and 6 p.m. A live interview between Dupree and management columnist Gene Marks is scheduled as the main event for 7 p.m. (view the video invite below).

According to multiple news reports, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority plans to demolish Dupree Studios to make way for a privately-owned supermarket and parking lotCity Paper reported in November that the supermarket was described “as a longtime ‘dream of this community and of Councilwoman [Jannie] Blackwell'” by city officials, with Blackwell allegedly stating during a City Council Rules Committee hearing last year that it “has been a long time coming. We wanted a whole extra block for the supermarket. But we fought long and hard, and even the people involved in the condemnation are saying, ‘When’s it going to happen?'”

Support for Dupree’s cause is far and wide, and crosses the political spectrum. In late January, 16 representatives from various arts and political organizations—including the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the conservative action group Americans for Prosperity, founded by the infamous Koch brothers—signed a Save Dupree Studios coalition letter that was delivered to Mayor Nutter and members of city council. From the letter:

“Seizing James Dupree’s art studio is not only unconstitutional and a gross abuse of eminent domain, it is unconscionable. … We are especially concerned about Mr. Dupree’s case because, as empirical evidence and history demonstrate, eminent domain abuse disproportionately impacts racial and ethnic minorities. It is vital to protect all Pennsylvanians from eminent domain abuse, especially the most vulnerable.”

Dupree also launched a petition in November 2013 imploring Mayor Nutter to return him the deed to his Haverford Avenue property. So far, the petition has garnered over 3,000 signatures, and needs close to 2,000 more.

“All I could think of was how do you seize a person’s free and clear deed? How do you condemn a building that’s not condemnable?” Dupree told City Paper. “The answer is they made a big mistake. … They weren’t expecting a guy like me to be here.”

Annamarya Scaccia

3 Comments For This Post

  1. lkgallagher Says:

    Seems like you’re just mad because you ain’t getting 2 million bucks like you have been bragging about getting for years. Do you really care about that neighborhood or are you just another speculator?

  2. James E. Dupree Says:

    Ikgallagher,As I stated from day one how did the city of Phila. take my free and clear deed. They took away my right to stay or sell my private property! They have no plan for a Supermarket or developer. This is a Land Grab,Land Bank, Land Seize for Future Development for PROFIT. Believe it or not I am from this community my family move here in 1955 I attended the Drew School on Lancaster Ave, for seven years my Wife and I Ran the Community Voyage House School on Lancaster that serviced the kids from this community in the Seventies,after I graduated from the University of Pa, with a Mastered Degree. I also for 6 years ran the Prints and progress after school Program for kids that also serviced this community. I came back to this community to bring about hope and change. The City of Phila seized 1,200 home using the Eminent Domain Laws in 2012!If you really care about Factual Information, Go to Its a lot bigger than MONEY or SPECULATION !!!!!!
    You got one thing right,I am just Mad because THEY STOLE MY LAND….. By the way this law Kills people and ruins your LIFE….. I have been fighting this for 7 years, a stroke and spent all my money, lawyers bills average $15,000 to $20,000, a month to fight back. Have the courage to sign our petition to help change this Abusive LAW ! Imagine this Happening to UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU YOU!

  3. Stewie Says:

    Although I’m not on the Dupree bandwagon here, the use of eminent domain in this instance is questionable. IMHO, this isn’t about a supermarket as much as speculators with political connections who have land banked property via sheriff sale, etc. and are looking aggregate the remainder.

    This aggregation will result in a sale to Drexel for expansion. The supermarket is a red herring…

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