Mantua-Based Artist Makes Colorful Statement Against Eminent Domain

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A Mantua-based artist made international headlines a couple of years ago when he took on the city of Philadelphia to save his beloved studio — and won. Now, his story of victory is the subject of new art.

Covered in rainbow colors, the Dupree Studio and Museum is the only building standing on the north side of Haverford Avenue between 36th and 37th Streets. Just its presence makes a statement — and the closer you get, the louder it is.

“My art is political,” says James Dupree, an artist born and raised in West Philadelphia. “This building is political — and people know this building from all over the world, because it is a political statement.”

At 65, Dupree is the man behind the 8,600 square foot space that teems with colorful creativity, including more than 5,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings and the other artifacts he’s made over five decades.

“This place represents a journey of my dreams and my imagination,” he says, “when I was 30– I said ‘one day I will have an amazing studio’ — and this is it.”

This dream is why he held fast in 2012 when the city of Philadelphia tried to use eminent domain to take his he fought back.

“I never came up here to fight,” he says, I came here because it was affordable and I had a vision when I walked into this building that no one else had.”

Dupree says the building was condemnable when he purchased it and he invested everything he owned to make it better. With close proximity to Drexel, UPenn and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he knew his studio was a prime location, so he refused to sell unless paid full market value. His story grabbed the attention of media outlets locally, nationally and internationally. After a two-year long courtroom brawl, he ultimately won. But the battle scars are still visible.

“The struggle here almost killed me,” he says, “I had a stroke; I lost sight sound, speech and mobility.”

To heal, Dupree did what artists do; he made art using the rubble and remains of the buildings demolished around him. He created 500 pieces for a new exhibit he calls, “Stolen Dreams from the Promise Zone.”

“It’s all documented through my art,” says Dupree.

He’s also the focus of a documentary titled “Broken Dreams: The Man I Always Wanted to Be,” the story of Artists James Dupree. A trailer is available online.

But with rising taxes and developers closing in, Dupree says he’s growing weary of the fight. The value of his property has gone up ten fold under the city’s new tax system, which means he can barely afford his new tax bill. He’s even had to deal with tax liens since he won his property back. The continued struggle makes selling more attractive.

“I may have the energy of a young guy,” he says, “but they have the time and money and they want this land– I just may cash out.”

But not until he gets the full value of his investment and gets a chance to have his say.

For details on Dupree’s new exhibit, click here: 

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