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The West Art District makes an eloquent statement on the power of art to build community 

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click to enlarge PHOTO BV JOEY ROULETTE
  • Photo bv Joey Roulette

Rai, who grew up in Orlando, looked at the empty warehouses and saw more than a development opportunity; he realized that he had been presented with a literal blank canvas. He decided to turn the former automotive parts machining factory into an open space for artistic expression. He got in contact with a local graffiti artist who goes simply by Noun, and together they devised a plan to develop the space into a haven for artists.

On Jan. 3, they put out an open invitation for people of any age, style or skill level to come paint on any open space they could find on the walls. Using social media, they invited the public to come watch the artists create murals live. Within three days, every single wall was covered.

It's been six weeks since that first day. Since then, the West Art District (located on the corner of West Central Boulevard and Westmoreland Drive) has grown, and continues to do so with an incredible momentum. Their Instagram page boasts more than 1,300 followers, and is updated daily with pictures and videos of the art being created that day. The invitation to create is open and free of charge, so artists from as far away as Europe are requesting space on the walls in which to create.

click to enlarge PHOTO BV JOEY ROULETTE
  • Photo bv Joey Roulette

"I'm getting messages from Spain, Tokyo, Russia, Japan. It's crazy. People from around the world are actually looking at this," Rai says. He and Noun, now West Art District's art director, were initially taken aback by the response. Painting is by appointment only these days, and the demand is very high. "I've got maybe 30 artists here every week," Rai says.

To help them establish a sense of organization within this accelerated growth, the pair maintains a database that functions as a log of the artists who have contributed to the walls thus far. Although the database is not available to the general public, it helps Rai and Noun determine when an artist can come paint, where exactly the art goes, and details how much time and effort went into each piece.

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