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Originally published August 8, 2011 at 7:49 PM | Page modified August 9, 2011 at 5:29 PM

East Cherry Street: an artistic world on one city block

A single block on East Cherry Street — between 23rd and 24th avenues — is home to six artist studios, summer art walks and an art school for youths.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Central District Art Walk

This month's art walk will be held 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at its usual location along East Cherry Street between 23rd and 24th avenues.

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It's not exactly clear how a single block on East Cherry Street came to have six artist studios, summer art walks and an art school for youths.

But stroll down the row of 11 white garage doors on a sunny afternoon and you might stumble across Sarah Rollinger churning her teal printing press. Or Natalie Ramsey fine-tuning one of her paintings.

At least one explanation for the recent flurry of artist activity is that Central District resident Ana Karina Luna decided she wanted to work with her door open.

The graphic designer and urban architect had just come into possession of two 19th-century newspaper printing presses, and — needing more space than her home could provide — became the third artist to rent from a row of repurposed garages between 23rd and 24th avenues on East Cherry Street in 2008.

"When I moved there, nobody was actually opening their garage doors," she said.

Luna was also the first to post a business sign outside. When she started working with her white garage door peeled back, curious passers-by would stop to chat. Eventually, other tenants started opening their doors.

Last year the Cherry Street artists — two painters and two letterpress printers — decided to host the first Central District Art Walk, which runs on the second Saturday of each month in the summer. The art walk, one of three to start in Seattle in the last year, is scheduled again for this Saturday, from 1 to 5 p.m.

Along with painting and printing-press demonstrations, live music and a bake sale on the sidewalk, the studios sell artwork on display. The neighborhood bar, The Twilight Exit, will have live music.

"We wanted to create a community event that helped revitalize the Central District," said Christopher Bryce Morris, a mixed-media artist who works in one of the garages.

Around the city, neighborhood groups are using art walks to add foot traffic, improve public safety and bolster the area's economic activity, said Jeanine Anderson, director of operations for the Art Walk Consortium in Seattle.

"It also leads to all these connections between people in the neighborhood and gives an individual a sense of community and a sense of place," Anderson said.

"Generally, these things start with somebody who has a vision," she said.

Back in 2008, property owner Ron Rubin wanted to turn the block on East Cherry into a shopping district with artists and street merchants that would thrive on pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

Rubin said he hoped that creating more street activity would "get eyeballs on the street" and deter crime, he said.

"My real motivation was urban renewal, to make it safer, more walkable and more livable," he said.

Rubin bought the old Dilettante Chocolates building at 23rd and East Cherry. He got permits to designate his garages as commercial storefronts and had plans to replace the pull-down doors with actual entryways. He said he offered garage tenants cheap rent, at about $300 per month.

But when the economy tanked, there was no money for replacing the garages or developing the block, Rubin said. The corner lot at 23rd and East Cherry sat empty for the next year and a half.

"The plan got put on pause," he said.

"It was not looking good," said Ramsey, who now uses one of Rubin's garages to paint. Ramsey lived in the Central District briefly in the 1980s before moving to Edmonds. Since she bought a condo in her old neighborhood, she has tried to find ways of reinvesting in the area. "That's the whole reason I moved," Ramsey said. "I think this could be a really strong, vibrant neighborhood."

Despite Rubin's decision to sell the empty corner lot, his vision remains intact. The new property owner, Coyote Central, is an arts nonprofit that teaches students between the ages of 10 and 14. Since moving in April 1, the group has renovated the building and is now attaching a welding studio and community garden.

Although Coyote Central isn't taking part in the neighborhood art walk this summer, there probably will be collaboration in the future, said Marybeth Satterlee, Coyote Central's co-founder and director.

Along with Coyote Central, a shared artist workshop called A.L.T. Space began renting a garage next door in March.

"It's taken on a life of its own now," Rubin said. "I don't think we changed the Central Area. I think we changed a couple blocks. ... The people who live there get all the credit. I just created the vision and stepped out of the way."

J.B. Wogan: 206-464-2206 or jwogan@seattletimes.com

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