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Bywater Art Venue Closes Under Permit Pressure 

  Trouser House executive director Emily Morrison announced Nov. 6 that the art venue would close at the end of the month. Her announcement came via the group's website and in an email to the art space's supporters.

  Trouser House, located at 4105 St. Claude Ave., opened in 2009 as a gallery and art space with an urban farm, and last week it hosted its final show, Salon des Refuses, which, Morrison notes with irony, is named after the rejected pieces of Parisian salons.

  Trouser House, among other Bywater and Marigny spaces, received an email from Mayor Mitch Landrieu's Office of Cultural Economy in the wake of permitting problems at Bacchanal, the wine store that served food and hosted live music without city approval. The email prompted area gallery owners to rush to City Hall to apply for appropriate permits, and "some got them," Morrison said.

  But prior to that, in August, Morrison sent an email to city officials inviting them to a salon opening. He said they replied, asking to meet. City code enforcement officials have told Morrison that the building, which dates from 1840, needs to be brought up to current code standards, including Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility and fire safety provisions.

  Morrison was given a checklist: level the building's foundation, widen doorways several inches, install bathrooms and ramps, add exits through a neighbor's parking lot, widen alleyways, install a gateway — a complete overhaul, Morrison says. The extensive makeover would require hiring an architect to perform a feasibility study, a licensed contractor to make the changes, and thousands of dollars. "'Then maybe we'll give you a permit,'" Morrison said, pretending to quote city officials. "How can something built 100 years ago get compliant up to this year?"

  Identity issues in Bywater and Marigny properties aren't helping: There currently are no permits to cover what Trouser House does; Bacchanal's offerings changed as it grew; the Esplanade Avenue art treehouse "moved" to St. Claude Avenue; and Plan B will move later this year after its relatively smooth eviction from the A.R.K., which is being renovated into luxury apartments.

  Bywater and Faubourg Marigny neighborhood associations voice support for the arts in their respective neighborhoods, but the city's recent code enforcement campaigns are the rule. Morrison worries, "Is it possible in the Bywater anymore?"

  Trouser House's mission statement defines the space as "a model of sustainability defined by community involvement and public education. As a catalyst for social change, Trouser House advocates food activism and contemporary art as vehicles for improving public health and personal well-being."

  Exhibits were planned through May 2012 but now will have to find new exhibition spaces. The city, Morrison said, isn't kicking out Trouser House tenants or closing its doors, but it can't run as is without proper permits. City officials were "receptive," Morrison said, and "to an extent encouraging." She added that folks in the Landrieu administration are working for the arts and are willing to help as long as Trouser House moves.

  "We continue to work with cultural workers and businesses to help get the permits and licenses they need to keep them in business," said Scott Hutcheson, Landrieu's adviser for cultural economy. "We will continue to work with Trouser House to assist in their efforts to find a suitable location." — Alex Woodward

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