Philadelphia Wants To Turn Artist's Studio Into A Parking Lot


James Dupree and his daughter in front of his studio

James Dupree and his daughter in front of his studio

An untitled piece of James Dupree's art

Nine years ago, Philadelphia artist James Dupree turned a broken-down warehouse and garage into a unique art space where he works and has hosted art classes. James has plans to start a mentorship program so that inner-city kids – like he once was – can learn to appreciate art and maybe even become artists one day.

But James’ plans came to an abrupt stop last year. In November 2012, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) used eminent domain to take 17 properties from their owners in order to build a new supermarket and parking lot in west Philadelphia. Although the land grab is clearly not a private use and an unconstitutional use of government power, the city has already seized the deeds of some properties, including James’ beautifully renovated 8,600 square-foot studio. James’ studio houses over 5,000 pieces of art and has been a classroom for many local artists in the community. He is one of the city’s most highly sought-after artists. Five of his paintings are housed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and numerous pieces of his are displayed throughout the city.

Not only does the Constitution say that property may only be taken for public use, it also requires local governments to provide “just compensation” for land taken through eminent domain. But the city offered James a little over a quarter of its appraised value.

Incredibly, his studio was seized just four days before an eminent domain loophole was closed in the law. A law that went into effect on December 31, 2012, prohibits the city of Philadelphia from condemning property that was previously declared blighted. But though Dupree Studios occupies three addresses, the PRA failed to list all three addresses in its condemnation, oddly condemning only two thirds of his studio. The city is still set on bulldozing James’s studio.

In response, James and his family have teamed up with IJ to urge the Philadelphia City Council to return James’ property and halt this unconstitutional land grab. James needs your help to save his life’s work and get back to painting: please visit and sign the petition.


Contact Melinda Haring, activism manager at the Institute for Justice, for more information: (703) 682-9320 or

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