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Studio One rose from the ashes of a charred orphanage. Now total renovation will tear it down.

Packing up and moving out always brings up some heavy emotions, but vacating with no forwarding address feels a little like being left out in the cold to some irate East Bay art teachers.

Long-employed teachers at the Studio One community arts center in North Oakland don't know where they're going or if they'll even have work this year, when a seismic renovation displaces them and their classes for up to two years.

Studio One director Johnette Jones-Morton said the hundred annual art classes that have served hundreds of thousands of Oakland residents for more than fifty years should continue at an interim facility, but with nine weeks until the renovation move-out begins, she can't say where. "We could [disclose] it now, but we need to have something in writing and we have nothing in writing," she said in mid-December.

The temporary art space will probably be smaller than the 20,000-square-foot facility at 365 45th St., Jones-Morton said, and she doesn't yet know if there'll be enough space for every teacher, some of whom have been at Studio One for more than twenty years. "There are no details, so don't ask for details," she said. But "our first objective is to keep everybody going."

If Studio One closes without a temporary space to move to, the 54-year-old arts programs will be permanently damaged, students and teachers say. Studio One is a generations-old arts microcosm that is about to set all of its unique specimens outside for anywhere from one to two years. "The teachers and the students will just go away," said Ruth Block, a painting instructor since 1989.

"We don't think the search began soon enough. It should've begun months ago," said another instructor, who declined identification because of fear of reprisals from Jones-Morton. "We're just not at all optimistic."

"In all the years I have taken classes at Studio One there's never been a comparable situation," said Ronnie Polonsky, who has been studying ceramics there for thirty years. "Bob Johnson, a teacher at Studio One for fifteen years, recently quit because of the situation."

Built in 1894 as an orphanage and rebuilt after a fire in 1906, the two-story brick building could collapse during an earthquake. The $10 million renovation will replace the old building while retaining its original horseshoe shape. New features will include an elevator, solar panels, and a theater.

Glass artist Patrick Daughton said Studio One will need a lot of temporary space for literally tons of art supplies, which include huge kilns for firing ceramics. Candidates include the neighboring Oakland Tech High School, or some other public schools that are closing. "I'm optimistic without having any evidence to support that attitude," Daughton said.

Despite the prospect of brighter, safer digs on the horizon, most of the longtime studio users sound skeptical at best. "I don't know what I'm going to do," said twenty-year painting student and retired Oakland resident Judith Kalb as she dabbed her easel. "I'm very hurt."

Jones-Morton said teachers and staff will be the first to know when a solution solidifies. Meanwhile, move-out preparations have begun without a forwarding address.


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