Home > Uncategorized > 3/13/08: Follow-Up to Yesterday’s Post About the Art Exhibit Controversy in Troy

3/13/08: Follow-Up to Yesterday’s Post About the Art Exhibit Controversy in Troy

A quick follow-up to yesterday’s posting surrounding the controversy over an art exhibit in Troy and subsequent closing of a gallery that offered to host it.

In a reply to yesterday’s post, chrusty brought to our attention an article from Metroland. From that reply:

Metroland has a different view on the Mirch/Code Enforcement connection.

From the article: According to a source who asked to remain anonymous, Mirch, who has a reputation of using code enforcement for political retaliation, told a fellow demonstrator to not worry, that code would be visiting sanctuary in the morning. Mirch emphatically denied this. “That’s ridiculous. Jesus Christ. I can’t compete with lies,” he said. “You wanna poke me in the eye, let’s do it with facts on a truthful basis.”

The next morning, however, Pierce received a phone call from the Troy code department beginning, “I work for the City of Troy code enforcement. I was told to call you and speak to you.”

Pierce was informed that, without significant repairs to the sanctuary’s exterior and some interior doors, at a cost of more than $14,000, it would have to be closed immediately. Now, the city has changed its demands, telling him that he has until April 10 to make the repairs. Pierce has no idea what will happen if he can’t meet that deadline.

“We haven’t gotten anything in writing from the city,” Pierce said. “The story has been continually changing. Forty-eight hours ago, everything was fine; 24 hours ago, we had to close immediately.”

Pierce has contacted the Center for Constitutional Rights and the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Members of the Troy City Council have suggested an investigation into the legitimacy of the code department’s actions, and whether it was an act of political retaliation.

“For years, there have been stories about this administration abusing code enforcement, to suppress people’s First Amendment rights,” Pierce said. “They should investigate on behalf of all the citizens of Troy.”

I don’t doubt that there was confusion and miscommunication, however I’m skeptical of anyone playing the victim card when they were told about these very same problems 14 months ago and never fixed them.

There’s been a lot of grandstanding and posturing from people who overreacted to Bilal’s game mod, and Pierce and others certainly aren’t innocent of it either. Whether it’s him or others reporting on the case, glaring omissions of certain facts are giving the impression that he had no prior contact with Code Enforcement and that he was unaware of the repairs that needed to be made in order for the building to be up to code. Which isn’t the case here at all.

There’s an essential problem here when it comes to individuals being forthcoming. Certainly, Pierce does have a point in that there’s been a lot of miscommunication in the past several days, but if you’re told that there’s code violations in your building and that it legally has to be brought up to code to open it up to the public, then those issues should be addressed. It may appear to be strong-arm tactics, and certainly there are some legitimate questions that should be answered regarding how this situation has been handled this week. But ultimately, Pierce could have avoided all this by fixing the problems over the course of the past year.

Also, anyone who has attended the festivities at “Troy Night Out” will attest to the fact that there is no shortage of art gallery space in downtown Troy. Why nobody else has stepped up to the plate – and why the exhibit hasn’t been opened to another location – is an interesting question that I haven’t seen asked.

All conclusions jumped to and actions taken by both sides of the issue in the past 48 to 72 hours aside, ultimately there has to be responsibility taken by the individual(s) who allowed these violations to go unaddressed for over fourteen months. I hate to sound like a broken record, but sending a letter some time ago saying “we’re not done” and not receiving a response shouldn’t constitute a green-light to resume operations, and I’m perplexed as to how anybody would make that assumption.


Also, it’s worth noting the event listing on RPI’s “Arts” website (here), which specifically noted the “Al Qaeda” connection before the whole mess of the past several days.

From the site:
“In the widely marketed video game “Quest for Saddam,” players fight stereotypical Iraqi foes and try to kill Saddam. Al Qaeda did its own take, creating an online video game using the structure of Quest for Saddam but adding a new “skin” to turn the game into a hunt for Bush: “The Night of Bush Capturing.” Now Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal has hacked the Al Qaeda version of the game to put his own more nuanced spin on this epic conflict.”

“Quest for Saddam” was a follow-up to an amateur game called “Quest for Al-Qaeda” that an 18-year-old made in reaction to September 11th. If you’re asking yourself why you’ve never heard of this “widely marketed” game before, it’s because it really wasn’t. “Quest for Saddam” was not put out by a major distributor, and for the most part appears to just be available for download online. This wasn’t a game that was a huge hit by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it a Halo-style game in terms of quality or popularity.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Equally of note is that there is yet another assumption being made that RPI’s Administration was fully aware of that connection, though certainly and realistically you can’t expect Administrators to view every single item that gets posted on a University’s website. And the events listing certainly wouldn’t say “by the way, the FBI’s currently questioning the artist as to the source of this material and whether there’s some questionable circumstances regarding how he acquired it.”

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  1. March 13, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    There’s a larger issue here – Capital Distict municipalities have allowed for groups like the UAG, Grand Street Artists and the Sanctuary to operate with their buildings not being up to code for years. The Grand St church doesn’t have heat, won’t have heat for awhile and shouldn’t be allowed to operate without heat. The Albany City council allows them to use the building and do exhibits because its much better to have a building being used and repaired (though slowly) than to have it abandonned and free for vagrants and questionable folk to have relatively free access to it.

    The repairs to the Sanctuary are to be $14,000. That’s no small change. As someone who works for a non-profit, that’s more than we pull in per year. Yes the Sanctuary pulls in much more, but that’s still a nice chunk of change. The City of Troy had been fine, or so it seemed, with them opperating with the door a mere two inches too small. That was the code violation. Why it wasn’t grandfathered it, I’m not sure, as I’m pretty sure the door was installed when they took position of the building.

    Yet the issue remains that for over a year the Sanctuary was raising money to fix the door and the City of Troy was well aware of this. Suddenly they show a controversal exhibit and they are shut down by someone who has used such tactics as retaliation. Whether he is innocent or not of wrong doing, a definate apparent bias appears to exist and its worthy of investigation.

    As for other groups not picking the exhibit up, likely their spaces include possible code violations. I mean, come on, most of downtown Troy and Albany is old buildings. Picking up the exhibit would mean that they would be put to scrutiny and many are afraid that the same individuals that worked to close the doors to the Sanctuary, would do the same to them. There’s a lot of fear in the Albany arts community. I’ve been to several meetings this week and its not pretty. There are people who are afraid to even speak words of support to the Sanctuary.

    • March 13, 2008 at 5:23 pm

      “The City of Troy had been fine, or so it seemed, with them opperating with the door a mere two inches too small.”

      Or so it seemed. Again, that’s working on an assumption made by the Sanctuary, not by anything said by the City of Troy on or off the record. The City of Troy never said “do exhibits while your building isn’t up to Code”, which is by Pierce’s own admission to the Troy Record yesterday (he stated specifically that some time ago he sent a letter saying he wasn’t done and didn’t get a reply). It’s not unheard of for something like this to fall through the cracks.

      Like I said in the blog posting, I agree that there’s questions and concerns that need to be addressed as to how all of this went down in the last 48 to 72 hours. But none of that – none of it – changes the fact that they were told to repair these items 14 months ago. And I’m not seeing anything that indicates they were ever given an official notice that they had passed inspection and everything was up to code.

      “There’s a lot of fear in the Albany arts community. I’ve been to several meetings this week and its not pretty. There are people who are afraid to even speak words of support to the Sanctuary.

      And a lot of that is, honestly, just straight-up paranoia. Logically, do people really think their building’s going to be shut down if they come out in support of the exhibit? If anything, there’d be more free passes handed out in Albany in the immediate future because there’s a microscope on it and the municipalities wouldn’t want that level of controversy.

      Also, if it’s really a direct result of the “Republican machine” at work, why are people in Albany afraid? Did that city’s political mechanism radically change in the last 48 hours and suddenly go from Demorat to Republican? Or do they think Bob Mirch, the Commissioner of Public Works in Troy, is going to shut down their building in Albany somehow? Or is it Joe Bruno supposedly pulling all the strings again? Seems ridiculous, I know, but what’s the justification there?

      Quick aside – as sketchy as he may be, this whole issue and the city of Troy isn’t even on Joe Bruno’s radar right now.

      There are some very good people who are playing the victim card way too much, and now there’s people even playing it prematurely. It’s a bit much, and people on both sides are being way too melodramatic about this.

      • March 13, 2008 at 5:46 pm

        I believe that the point I am trying to make is that both Troy and Albany have turned a blind eye to code violations in the past to ensure that such groups are able to use their spaces. It’s been an unspoken agreement that galleries can show exhibits while they continue to raise money for repairs. If the violation was so serious that the building needed to be closed 14 months ago, why wasn’t it closed then? Why was it closed this week with the controversal exhibit? I’ve had some experience with code violations and normally you have a set and very definate period of time to fix something. If things are not up to code by then, you must leave until the issue is resolved.

        Again, the question becomes why not 14 months ago? If it were that serious 14 months ago, why shut the building down then? It really makes me wonder.

        I agree that people fearing coming out in support verbally of the Sanctuary is rather paraniod. However, galleries in Troy are fearful of showing the exhibit in fear that they too will be served with a code violation and their doors will be closed. Galleries in Albany are concerned for two reasons. First is that they’ll violate codes. With all the hoopla over this, its bound to get a lot of visitors, and no one wants to exceed their capacity, get the police involved, etc… They don’t want that sort of scrutiny and attention. Second is that many galleries are located in Center Square, are rented and could be asked to close the exhibit due to the landlord. I know our landlord has barred us from putting on certain kinds of events.

      • March 13, 2008 at 6:22 pm

        “Again, the question becomes why not 14 months ago? If it were that serious 14 months ago, why shut the building down then? It really makes me wonder.”

        Me too, but in having a general knowledge of how things work in this city, it’s really quite simple: incompetence and ignorance.

        And I don’t mean those necessarily as slanderous. Incompetence in the sense that somehow they allowed it to slip through the cracks, and they never followed up on it. Ignorance in the sense that after not following up on it like they should have (whether through human error or other issues taking priority), it’s possible the folks in Code Enforcement weren’t even aware that events were still being held in the building without the building being brought up to code.

        The Sanctuary has a reputation in the Arts Community, but it’s not exactly the most highly visible organization in the area. Though they’ve stepped up their activity in recent months, their own website seems to indicate that on average they were having about two or so events each month and went literally months at a time without hosting any events.

        As a result, they most likely unintentionally flew under the radar of the folks who initially told them they had to fix “X, Y, and Z” in order to be up to code. If you operate under the Theory of Hypercompetent Government, then the City of Troy’s Code Enforcement has eyes on every building under their jurisdiction and in this case they just let things slide until an exhibit came about that truly offended them. If you operate under more realistic apprehensions and especially if you’re familiar at all with how things work in Code Enforcement and other areas in the City of Troy (and they’re far from the only municipality this applies to), it’s that they truly had no idea that public assemblies and exhibitions were being held on a regular basis until The Sactuary ended up as front page news.

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