Central City's Neighborhood Gallery Left Homeless

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The sidewalk in front of the Neighborhood Gallery was full of seven years of stuff last week. There were pianos, a jukebox, clothes, mod vintage chairs, knick-knacks, 75 matching seats from the theater, and, inside, every painting on the wall at must-go prices. Sandra Berry and her husband Joshua Walker were holding a moving sale.

The couple has run the Neighborhood Gallery at 1410 Oretha Castle Haley since 1998. They were pioneers on this strip of Central City, a long-decaying neighborhood which transformed in recent years into a hub for non-profits, arts organizations and black-owned businesses.

Their performance space, thrift store, and gallery of African-American themed art served as a resource and refuge for many in the community, particularly the children they served in their Kwanzaa Kids Garden next door.

The building, where Berry and Walker also lived, sustained major roof damage from Hurricane Katrina. It has yet to be fixed. In addition, the elderly owner of the building died recently, leaving the property in the hands of estranged family members. The family decided to sell the building, and now the Neighborhood Gallery has to get out as soon as possible.

The garage sale held all last week did little to diminish Berry and Walker’s extensive holdings of art, antiques, instruments, furniture and all the accoutrements of their home and business. They say they are trying to move quickly and get rid of as much as they can, but they don’t have a new space to move into.

Berry and Walker are desperately searching for a building they can afford, hopefully one that can be both gallery and residence. Berry says she is sad to be leaving the O.C. Haley area, which she played a major role in turning around.

She is particularly concerned that the street remain a place for predominantly black-owned institutions. Many buildings on the avenue have new owners, many of whom are turning their properties into condos. The Ashé Cultural Center and Barristers/Zeitgeist Gallery are facing new, more expensive leases that may eventually drive them out of their spaces, too.

Berry is trying to stay on the positive side of things. She and Walker are eager to bring their energy to a new part of the city. A space on Freret Street, she says, would be perfect for them. But just how and when something will come about, she has no idea.

Listen to our June 30 Street Talk interview with Sandra Berry.

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