Gallery owner spent millions in renovation before being unceremoniously kicked out
Five years ago the Lideta Culture and Tourism Bureau (LCTB) agreed to lease a historical home to St. George Art Gallery for 50 years. After the agreement, Selmawit Alene, who owns St. George Gallery, invested five million birr to renovate the registered historical landmark.
However, last year LCTB closed the house, saying that a ‘technical mistake’ was made and the house would be leased to another person.
The 372sqm, 107 year old, wood and brick, Mussei Boghossian House is located in Golla Park and was built by Armenians during the reign of Menilik II. It has 19 rooms, 31 doors and 22 windows. Previously it was used as a Keble office and youth center.
In response, the federal government stepped in; ordering the Addis Ababa Cultural and Tourism Bureau (AACTB) to allow St. George Art Gallery to use the house.
Remedan Ashenafi, State Minister of the Cultural and Tourism Bureau said, “we are aware, based on a report from the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage that Selmawit Alene has done a good job in renovating the house so we are asking AACTB to return the house to Selamawit so she can use it for the art gallery.”
However AACTB has not responded. Capital asked AACTB why the house was not returned to St. George Gallery despite the federal government’s order.
Dereje Seyoum, Heritage Officer at AACTB said that they are organizing a committee to look into the issue.
“We are investigating the case and we are addressing the issue and soon we will announce our decision,’’ he said.
Selmawit says AACTB is bending justice by denying her a place she acquired legally.
“I did not conquer the place, they approved my request to renovate the house and create a business there. The letter from the woreda office suspending our lease agreement came after I spent a lot of time and money renovating the place. So my question is why would they allow me to do all this work if they though the house should not be given to a third person.”
Selamawit currently has another art gallery near the Sheraton Addis Hotel.