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Standoff at Nexus Institute Continues, Artists Staying Put

By Richard Brenneman
Friday June 02, 2006

Members of the Nexus Institute were still occupying their rented West Berkeley home Thursday, the day after the deadline had passed for them to leave. 

Just how much how longer they will be allowed to stay remains an open question. 

Nexus, an artist collective founded in 1973, faces threat of eviction from their landlord, the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society. 

Mim Carlson, the Humane Society’s executive director, offered little in the way of response. 

When a reporter noted that Nexus artists were still in residence, she said, “That’s what I’ve heard, too.” 

Asked if eviction might be in the works, Carlson did say the society’s board would be meeting to discuss their options, but declined to say where or when. 

“We’re still in there,” said Nexus co-president Carol Newborg. “Hopefully negotiations will continue on our attempting to purchase the buildings.”  

Nexus has been trying to negotiate a purchase, though talks were recently broken off unilaterally by the Humane Society. 

Carlson has said her non-profit needs to sell the building in order to raise much-needed funds. 

“The fence didn’t go up,” said Robert Brockl, a Nexus artist. The fence he referred to was one the Humane Society planned to erect around their landmarked brick building once the artists had departed. 

Victor Lap, one of the collective’s founders, said Nexus has occupied the facility at 2701-2721 Eighth St. since its founding. 

The site consists of a landmarked brick building and two non-landmarked sheet-metal-clad structures.  

Jos Sances, chair of the city’s Civic Arts Commission (CAC), said the CAC is asking the City Council to protect the artist spaces as required under existing city statute and the West Berkeley Plan. 

“There are 12 artist’s spaces and a woodworking shop where 12 artists work. We want to make sure there is no loss of spaces,” he said.  

CAC members voted unanimously on May 24 to ask the council to delay any evictions until the artists and craft workers “are provided with comparable space.” 

The West Berkeley plan includes a policy to “protect small businesses, particularly arts and crafts businesses, so they can continue to flourish in West Berkeley.” 

To implement that policy, section 23E.84.090 of the city code provides that “the Zoning Officer or Board must find that the space formerly occupied by the protected use has been replaced with a comparable space in the West Berkeley Plan area, which is reserved for use by any protected use in the same category.” 

“There’s a lot of language in the ordinance and in the West Berkeley plan that may be confused, but it clearly protects arts and crafts use,” Sances said. 

He said the commission isn’t asking that city mandate that the Nexus artists be allowed to say in the current home, only that some home is provided for them. 

“There are complicated negotiations going on, and there are also divisions within Nexus,” Sances said. “Rather than getting mixed up with any of that, we are just asking the city to protect the spaces.” 

City Civic Arts Coordinator Mary Ann Merker said the resolution would go before the City Council during their June 20 meeting. 

“Clearly the status quo needs to change,” said Newborg. “The Humane Society needs the money and we need a place to stay.” 

One solution might include the addition of a buying partner, “because there’s more space than we need” she said. “There should be a way to work together without them going broke and us getting kicked out.”