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My Story Featured in the Virginian Pilot


Jaimie Phillips is easy breezy, just going with the flow.

She's an artist, after all. Isn't she supposed to be a free spirit, floating along with life's currents?

Phillips, 27, is one of the artists whose lives were jolted into disarray by the explosion that rocked the Selden Arcade.

It's been four months since she and the other artists were forced to relocate from their work spaces inside the city's cultural arts center in downtown Norfolk.

The mural artist has found her way back home to Roanoke, where she shares studio space with a friend while waiting to find out if and when artists can return to the Selden.

"This whole summer, I've been going back and forth" between Roanoke and Norfolk, Phillips said. "And that is all due to the explosion."

The city began its repairs to the Selden in early July, hiring the contractor that's building the hotel conference center next door. While those repairs and the investigation into the explosion continue, a handful of artists have been given rent-free space in a building several blocks from the Selden. Others, like Phillips, have made their own arrangements or are working out of their homes.

Although the city hopes to finish the Selden repairs by fall, officials can't say when artists will be allowed to return to d'Art Center, the collection of artists' studios and shops inside the Selden.

"That is still to be determined," said David Ricks, the city's Public Works Director who's overseeing the restoration.

Some artists are taking the chaos in stride - even the ones whose summer has seemed like one big road trip.

"I've got a good feeling about it," Phillips said. "I kind of go with the flow. My attitude with things is that things happen for a reason."

Deborah Small, a mixed-media artist, is one of seven or eight artists who, thanks to the generosity of Harbor Group International, have found a temporary home inside the PNC Bank building several blocks from the Selden.

She said they've been working there, rent-free, since about two or three weeks after the explosion displaced them.

"It's been a little difficult, but it could have been a lot worse," said Small, who is 63. "We could have had nowhere to work."

Small said numerous artists have sold pieces of work at the PNC building, aided by signs they put up at the Selden directing people to their new workspace.

"I'm just trying to stay focused on positive things," said Small, who lives in Portsmouth. "I can't work when I'm not positive."

W.M. Jordan Co., which is building "The Main" hotel-conference center, is leading the effort to repair the Selden. The city has allocated $500,000 to start, and the final cost will be determined later, Ricks said.

The company has to restore the building's main electrical circuits and make structural repairs to the electrical room and several interior and exterior walls, among other repairs, Ricks said.

Once the work is done, it's unclear how many of the artists will find their way back there.

Phillips isn't sure she will.

"There's a chance I might land back here in Roanoke," said the painter, who's putting a mural on the ceiling of a homeowner's kitchen this week.

Small said she's eager to return to the Selden, but the restoration isn't going as fast as she'd hoped.

"I'm kind of trying to not get too excited about it ahead of time," she said. "I've got to stay motivated."

Tim Eberly, 757-446-2794,

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