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London: Artists fill empty storefronts.

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Ben Quinn

(Read caption) Artist Janette Parris has taken up residence in a former hairdresser's salon in South London in order to stage 'South Side Story,' a version of 'West Side Story,' with local children.

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LONDON – Boarded-up storefronts are an increasingly common sight here as the recession takes hold. But amid the gloom, enterprising artists are seizing opportunities to transform the vacant buildings into work and exhibition spaces – all with official backing.

On a recent Saturday morning, a one-time South London hairdressing salon echoed with the sounds of children’s voices. In the middle of it all was artist Janette Parris, whose new take on the musical “West Side Story” uses contemporary R&B music and is titled “South Side Story.” Youngsters from Sceaux Gardens, a nearby apartment block, make up the cast.

"This [storefront] is part of a housing estate so you can’t get any closer to the general public than this,” says Ms. Parris, who is used to working in unconventional locations but also exhibits in galleries.

"We’re going to be here each week so people can come and learn how to sing and dance.”

Parris is the third artist to take up residency in the storefront being leased by the South London Gallery, a publicly and privately funded institution that is hosting installments aimed at educating the public about contemporary art through play.

Elsewhere in London where commercial enterprises have stalled, other artists and galleries are also moving in – a trend now set to receive £3 million (US$4.5 million) in government funding.

Parris says that the recession could have an adverse effect on art with a high price tag. But it also throws the door wide open for new, experimental works.

“If you can do it on a shoestring and can find space, then people will still come to see what you do,” she says.

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