Village of the Arts looks to continue its rejuvenation

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BRADENTON, Fla. - As 2014 gets underway, one Bradenton neighborhood is hoping to keep its positive momentum going. The Village of the Arts has come a long way from the days of crime and prostitution, transforming itself into a major Suncoast arts destination.

"I experience a 40% drop in sales from the very beginning," says Sandra French, one of the artists who live and work in the Village of the Arts. For years, the area has struggled to transition from a place with an abundance of homeless people and run down homes to a thriving art community. "The more people that are here, the less homeless people are using the area as a cut thought to that's why I like to see it very busy."

And it seems French and many of the other artists in the area are getting their wish.

According to the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce, they've seen about a 20% increase in the amount of people visiting the area; and many of them end up the village.

"I’m browsing all the little shops they have open here." Sandy Donaldson is among the thousands expected to visit the village this year. The 7-block stretch now includes about 30 galleries -- many of which also double as homes to area artist.

That means visitors get an up close and personal feel they wouldn't otherwise experience. "I think this is a very neat area. It certainly gives the artist an opportunity to exhibit the different types of work they do and it gives me the customer an opportunity to browse," says Donaldson.

And as people browse officials hope they also buy and solidify the Village of the Arts as a major player in the art community. It's a plan many artist says is working.

"All of a sudden we're starting to see an uptick in the higher-end art buying. The area is in a tipping point with opening of the brewery over on 9th, and with the moving of so much downtown. Everything is really about to come to a nice head for all us, and I think it’s up to us to be here and be ready for it," says French.

The first Art Walk for the year begins Friday and artists in the area say they expect to see the increase in visitors continue.