For the second time in three weeks Loren Naji Studio Gallery in Ohio City has been shut down by the manipulation of bureaucracy.
Just before 8 pm Friday night, the launch party for the Summer 2014 edition of CAN Journal was interrupted when an officer of the Cleveland Fire Department entered the gallery and told Naji that because the gallery does not yet have an occupancy permit, the event had to be shut down.
This is a first-hand account. As Editor and Publisher of CAN Journal, I was made aware of the situation when Naji pulled me aside, saying “We’ve got a problem.” I followed Naji to the back of the gallery to talk with a uniformed firefighter who was simply following orders.
It did not matter that Naji’s occupancy permit application was in progress. Neither did it matter that Naji has been working to comply with municipal regulations since May 2, when Tremont resident Henry Senyak called for a crackdown by multiple city departments and the State Board of Liquor Control. Neither, apparently, did it matter that Naji has met repeatedly with the supportive Councilman Joe Cimperman, or that architects have measured the gallery to make drawings of its floor plan and its exits, or that Naji has submitted the drawings to the city, met with various department officials, procured exit signs, and paid application fees–all steps toward securing the occupancy permit.
“Half the buildings in Cleveland don’t have occupancy permits,” Cimperman told CAN Journal in an earlier interview.
Despite Naji’s efforts at compliance, the fireman informed him that everyone on the premises had to leave, and that if they did not he would call for police backup to remove the crowd forcibly if necessary. We chose to explain the situation to the crowd, thank them for coming and for supporting Cleveland art and artists, and encouraged them to go on to another opening (at 1point618 Gallery).
It’s worth noting that shutting down CAN Journal’s launch party touched art galleries throughout the region.
CAN Journal is a quarterly magazine about art in Northeast Ohio. It’s the publication of the Collective Arts Network, a membership organization with more than 70 Northeast Ohio galleries providing financial support and using the magazine as a group communication tool. As such it is one of the broadest collaborative ventures in the region. Member organizations include the Cleveland Museum of Art, MOCA Cleveland, the Cleveland Institute of Art, Zygote Press, BAYarts, SPACES, Beck Center for the Arts, Art Therapy Studios, Heights Arts, Orange Art Center, and many other non profits. CAN also counts among its members many of the region’s top commercial galleries, such as Bonfoey, 1point618, Tregoning and Company, William Busta Gallery, and many others. Many of CAN’s members, such as Maria Neil Art Project, Art House, and Arts Collinwood are working to bring economic vitality to their neighborhoods. The magazine has paid particular attention to the positive energy galleries bring to neighborhoods, including Ohio City.
This second bureaucratic assault on Naji’s gallery had nothing to do with alcohol: the event was alcohol-free. Neither did it have anything to do with noise: It was not yet 8 pm when the fire department called for the shut-down, and the band had not yet begun to play. This was bureaucracy used to harass an art gallery. Cleveland officials should be embarrassed by their complicity in this small-minded attack.
The following is a statement received via e-mail from Joe Cimperman following the events described above:
“After two weeks of intense collaboration with Loren, the city and the neighbors, we were as surprised as you that the Fire Department came to the studio last night.
“His application has been submitted for an occupancy permit. Loren–with the support of my office, Ohio City Incorporated, and the neighbors–has been doing everything to become compliant. He has the parking he needs and has done everything to become absolutely code correct.
“It is also my understanding that there was a valid temporary occupancy permit for last nights event.
“We will continue to advocate with Building and Housing and all city departments to allow Loren to keep providing his important community building, neighborhood supported work.
“What happened last night should not have happened.”