Designs on prime property

Avni Institute of Art and Design’s quiet purchase of rundown properties in south Tel Aviv has proved a master stroke in real-estate.

Avni Institute of Art 520 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Avni Institute of Art 520
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The 75-year-old Avni Institute of Art and Design in South Tel Aviv is recreating itself into a major center of design, fashion, communications, and more. Over the past few years, the institute has been quietly buying up a number of the dilapidated buildings along Rehov Eilat. In what is proving to be a master-stroke in real-estate speculation, Avni now owns a total of 10 properties spread out over the area between the Noga Opera Theater and the newly restored Jaffa railway station complex.
“We began buying up ruined and rundown properties on Rehov Eilat,” says director Shimon Zameret. “Nobody wanted these properties in this godforsaken area,” he laughs.
The three-story building at Rehov Eilat 8 was bought for $85,000, and a complex of buildings adjacent to the train station for $190,000. No one would even dare give an estimate of what they are worth today. Avni now owns 10 buildings covering a total of over 5,000 square meters.
Avni’s development is transforming the entire neighborhood. Art and frame shops along Rehov Eilat are booming. Many of the school’s 700 students come from wealthier areas in North Tel Aviv.
“Avni is situated between Arabs and Jews, hi-techies and low-lifers, rich and poor, Mediterranean sunsets and screeching Dan buses,” says Dr. Chen Kertcher, academic dean of Avni. Many are calling it the new Soho district. Studio apartments and lofts are practically impossible to find in the area.
AS PART of Avni’s redevelopment, Zameret hired Yaakov Mishori in 2005 to direct the Art Department. Mishori is known as one of Israel’s most important contemporary artists. When he took over Avni’s Art Department, Mishori fired the entire staff and hired young artists fresh out of art school.
“He wanted to make sure that teachers still had fresh memories of what it’s like to be a young artist,” says Assi Meshullam, the 36- year-old associate director of the department.
“Young teachers still remember what it’s like to be a student. They do a much better job of helping young artists break into the Israeli art scene.”
Today not a single teacher in Avni is over 40 years old.
And Avni is expanding its programs as well. Almost every year a new department is being developed.
“Now we are looking for another building in the area for our new Cinema Department,” says Zameret.
“Young people want to make significant movies today,” says Zameret. “They need lots of equipment and plenty of space.”
There are plans to open new departments for photography and jewelry.
Although the Avni Institute is well-known for its role in Israeli art over the past 75 years, it is still not recognized by the state as an institute of higher education.
According to Zameret, government regulators don’t have the resources, or just don’t want to subsidize yet another college. And without government approval, Avni cannot receive the subsidies other institutions receive.
But the government may not be able to ignore Avni for long. In cooperation with the Open University, Avni now offers full degree programs in interior design and architecture, industrial design, fashion design, visual communication and interactive communications.
Integrating Avni into the south end of Rehov Eilat is turning out to be more than just a financial windfall for the school.
“Students love this area,” says Kertcher.
“It allows them to taste the heart and soul of life in Tel Aviv.”
The whole area around Avni is a portrait of life in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Anybody stuck in traffic on Jaffa Road as it turns into Rehov Eilat just past the Nehushtan building can’t help but notice the clanging metal workshops next to slick, high-fashion outlets, or the dozen or so hole-in-the-wall factories next to bridal salons, pork sausage butchers and textile manufacturers.
“This is the perfect breeding ground for young artists to develop intellectually and emotionally and create meaningful art,” says Kertcher. “The realities of everyday life on this corner challenge them on that neverending journey of becoming an artist.”