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Annie Leibovitz and relatives purchase Healdsburg building for art gallery, performance space

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Famed celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz is one of the family of investors in an old machine shop in downtown Healdsburg purchased for conversion to an art gallery. But whether her photographs will be exhibited there is uncertain.

Leibovitz’s niece, Megan Steinman, an independent curator and creative producer, has ambitious plans to refurbish the rusted, garage-like structure into an art gallery that also would offer symposiums, performances, author readings, perhaps even a movie night.

“It will be like a town hall for creativity,” she said of the space that will occupy the 80-year-old, 1,700-square-foot structure, originally built as a blacksmith shop in 1936, according to real estate listings.

Steinman, 38, said Thursday said there “could be a chance” that her famous aunt’s photos will be on display. “It’s super possible but it’s not the curatorial direction,” she said, adding that the intention is not to base the studio around Leibovitz’s images.

The property at 444 Healdsburg Ave. was purchased for $850,000 in late October by a limited liability corporation represented by Paula Leibovitz Goodwin, a San Francisco tax and estate planning attorney and sister of Annie Leibovitz.

The other investors include another Leibovitz sister, Susan Steinman and her husband Arnold, who have lived in Healdsburg for 15 years. They are Megan’s parents.

All are investors in the art gallery venture, including Leibovitz, according to Megan Steinman, who declined to say how much money each of the parties put in.

“We are a family-run organization, interested in bringing art to Sonoma County. The space will be run by me, curated by me and artists selected by me,” she said.

Leibovitz, who lives in New York and has a gallery there, visits Healdsburg several times a year, according to Steinman.

Steinman has organized exhibitions, installations and events at art institutions in the United States and abroad, including Milan and Berlin. Currently she is director of the Underground Museum in Los Angeles.

Steinman was creative director for Capitol Records in Los Angeles from 2004 to 2007, according to her LinkedIn profile, and for four years before that was chief researcher, producer and artist liaison for Leibovitz’s book “American Music.”

Leibovitz gained prominence as chief photographer for Rolling Stone magazine in the 1970s, producing iconic portraits that include Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and a nude John Lennon curled around a clothed Yoko Ono.

As chief photographer for Vanity Fair, she photographed a very pregnant, nude Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg half submerged in a bathtub of milk.

Leibovitz has an international rotating exhibit — currently in San Francisco — with portraits of notable women including Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., transgender advocate Caitlyn Jenner, singer Adele and comedian Amy Schumer.

News of the Healdsburg purchase linked to Leibovitz and plans for a gallery of some sort were mentioned at a Chamber of Commerce meeting last month and a Healdsburg Sunrise Rotary meeting on Wednesday.

The featured topic at the Rotary meeting was how cultural arts and the creative sector have emerged as an important area for potential economic growth in Sonoma County, focused on Healdsburg, said Chamber of Commerce chief Carla Howell.

That’s when someone mentioned the Leibovitz family’s plans.

“It would be fabulous,” Howell said, recalling her reaction to the news.

The old orange empty building with a concrete pad in front of it has drawn mixed reviews over the years, with some viewing it as an ugly tear- down but others seeing it as a remnant of old Healdsburg deserving of preservation.

Steinman said it was part of the former home of the Healdsburg Machine Co., where rotary machines were made to crush and stem grapes. The seller, Ron Rafanelli — the third of three generations in his family to run the machine company — still owns the adjacent building that houses Healdsburg Vintage Antiques.

Steinman said that in addition to art displays, she plans events connected to the artists on view and arts in general.

“The art I’m interested in gives people, all kinds of people — young, old, well-heeled, less well-heeled, the opportunity to have discussions, see and hear, engage with the world in a new way,” she said.

She said she is interested in bringing in unknown artists from Mexico, Latin America and Asia, “not typical European artists.”

She said the building, once restored, might open by the summer of 2017.

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