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Just a few years ago, when artist Rita Whitney started volunteering at The Parliament Arts Organization, she said, Royal Square was not a place where you'd want to spend a lot of time.

"When I told people where (the Parliament) was, they would say, 'Oh my God, you go down there?!'" she said.

Since The Parliament, a nonprofit community arts collective that includes a gallery and tea bar at 116 E. King St., was founded in 2011, 17 businesses have opened their doors in the neighborhood. "Now it's the exciting place everyone wants to go to," said Whitney, who owns Prime Art Supply Co., which is just a few doors down from The Parliament.

A grant from the city's Department of Economic and Community Development allowed for the repaving of King and Duke Streets and new lighting and landscaping.

The neighborhood now boasts art galleries, specialty stores, a barber shop and a wedding venue.

More retail development is soon to follow and two restaurants are coming to South Duke Street—a donut shop called Glazin' and Bridge & Tunnel, a restaurant and bar, said Alexandra Dwyer, vice president of retail development at Royal Square Development and Construction and executive director and founder of The Parliament.

Branding the neighborhood: To help give the growing neighborhood a sense of place and identity, Downtown Inc and The Parliament worked together to create and hang banners in the neighborhood. There is one hung in each corner of at the intersection of King and Duke Streets and they continue outward from there.

When all are hung, there will be about 20 banners and they come in four different designs, each taken from a painting by an artist who is part of the Royal Square community. Referring to Whitney, Andi Simpson and Andrius Polonikas, Dwyer said, "Three of the artists were here since the beginning," part of the core of artists who helped to start the neighborhood's revitalization. Newcomer Tina Berrier, she said, was chosen to represent the neighborhood's future.

The banners: The design that shows part of Whitney's abstract oil painting, "Bart Nirvana," is a textured mishmash of shapes with a blue and orange color scheme. The painting was inspired by a picture of Bart Simpson swimming underwater like the baby on the cover of Nirvana's album "Nevermind," she said.

"It's completely abstract," Whitney said of her painting. The artist said there are no hidden meanings or stories behind her paintings. Starting with the image of Bart Simpson, she said she played with shapes and colors until the painting became interesting.

Whitney said the rest of the paintings the banners show are acrylic.

"Contrivance," by Andi Simpson, is a watery, dreamy abstract composition in purple, fuschia and yellow.

Andrius Polonikas' "Split Ends" in a stylized line drawing that shows a girl's face and hair.

"Selfie," by Tina Berrier, shows an owl with large round blue eyes.

Close community: How does a gallery in an up-and-coming neighborhood like Royal Square sustain itself?

"A lot of community support, and for me, a good diversity of artists and artwork," said Susan Scofield, owner of HIVE Artspace, 126 E. King St. "I try to have something for everyone in every single show."

Scofield said Berrier has exhibited in her gallery just about every month for the last two years and now has a solo show at Studio 117, 117 S. Duke St., that Scofield curated.

"I'm really proud of all the artists," she said, smiling.

—Reach Julia Scheib at jscheib@yorkdispatch.com.

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