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Artist Independent Republic: A Major New Arts Complex For West Palm Beach?

For some time now, a massive, three-story building at 2119 S. Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach, formerly the site of Ragtops Antique Car Showroom and Museum, has been undergoing a sweeping renovation. Virtually every square inch of its space has been repaired, redone, patched and freshly painted.

The project's mastermind, who, coyly, gives his name only as "Leo," says he has a vision, to transform this 1927 building on a forlorn stretch of asphalt into a regional arts landmark, anchoring an arts district in the city's south end.

Leo's project, called Artist Independent Republic, covers half a city block. Its main building, at 24,000 square feet, contains a cavernous, ground-floor exhibition space, second-floor offices, top-floor galleries, a meeting room and a cafe. An outdoor sculpture garden adjoins the building; a neighboring block may become green space. A bicycle share system (!) is in mind. With classes and other events still to be determined, Leo speaks of a commitment to innovation, inspiration and "the nurturing of new talent."

Already visible to the public, in the sculpture garden, are three large-scale constructions: a tangle of five triangles, ten feet high and fire engine red ("My life has been about triangles and squares," Leo told New Times); an array of large, battleship-grey, open-faced cubes (a la Donald Judd) around the lot's perimeter; and a 40-foot long string of multi-hued pastel 2-D forms along a low industrial fence on the far side of the lot.

Inside the building, the ground floor holds other work: a 300-pound, stainless steel cheetah; a flock of orange paper airplanes along a facing wall; a tower of steel construction scraps in a nine-foot high maze. There is furniture of Leo's design, lighting fixtures too, many also made from construction debris. The top floor is a labyrinth of white-walled corridors and alcoves, where Leo says he plans to show the work of up-and-coming artists. Large-scale signs are everywhere: "Artist Independent Republic : The Right Amount of Wrong" in red, white and black on the top floor; "An Insight Into Ideas, Methods and Creativity," in the building's southeast corner window.

Leo's plans for the cafe are provocative. He says he is working with a consultant formerly affiliated with Spain's legendary restaurant El Bulli ("world's best restaurant," proclaimed the BBC), and promises "exploratory cuisine."

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