Hands Off My Art Studio: IJ Helps Philadelphia Artist Fight Greedy City Planners

June 4, 2014

IJ continues its fight against eminent domain abuse nationwide, and the latest battle has brought us to an art studio in Philadelphia. James Dupree 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. Nine years ago, James turned a broken-down warehouse and garage into a unique art space where he works and hosts art classes. He wants 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 halt last year. Like most properties targeted for eminent domain abuse, James’ 8,600 square-foot eclectic studio is situated in a prized area. Drexel University plans to expand its campus into James’ neighborhood. To make way for Drexel and its students, the city is using eminent domain to seize his studio and replace it with a grocery store—clearly not a public use. Seizing James’ art studio is not only unconstitutional, it is unconscionable.

To draw national attention to his case, James teamed up with IJ in November. Together we launched a campaign urging the city council to halt this unconstitutional land grab and return James’ property. In April, IJ sponsored an all-day open studio event with live music, spin art and speeches that drew more than 400 art enthusiasts, community leaders and activists to demonstrate their support for James.

One trademark of IJ’s activism is its ability to forge nontraditional alliances. James’ case is no different. IJ is working with the ACLUs of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, Americans for Prosperity-Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth Foundation, a number of prominent art groups and a local minister to save Dupree Studios. Our coalition has generated enormous media attention: There have been more than 20 articles written about James’ fight in outlets like The Philadelphia Inquirer and Forbes.com. James has also appeared on Stossel and Fox & Friends.

As a result of the tug-of-war over James’ property, he had not been able to work. Since IJ got involved, James has returned to his James Dupree, right, speaks about his fight. paints and participated in Art Basel, a prestigious international art show for contemporary art in Miami.

James’ studio remains in legal limbo—but he fights on, knowing that he is not alone. Since Kelo, 47 states have strengthened protections for property owners against eminent domain abuse and IJ’s activism has helped save more than 16,000 properties.

The Institute for Justice will continue to seek justice for James and to prevent similar takings from ever occurring in Philadelphia again.

Melinda Haring is the activism manager at the Institute for Justice.

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