Just four short weeks after having a gallery event shut down and becoming the talk of the Cleveland arts community, Loren Naji was at the center of the battle between artists and the city of Cleveland again after a Friday evening event was shut down by the fire department over occupancy issues.
Around 6 p.m., Naji opened his gallery doors for the closing reception of an exhibit entitled “Undercurrents” and the kickoff of a launch party for the summer edition of CAN Journal, a quarterly news and criticism magazine. The party was a dry event, in case you were wondering, after the first installment of #thisiscleart where liquor control agents arrived to confiscate hundreds of dollars of beer and wine.
Since then, Naji had been working with the city to fix various compliance issues — recently buying fire extinguishers and installing exit signs on doors. His occupancy certificate was in the process of being approved and he understood that it was enough to cover him for the event.
Around 7:40 that evening, a rep from the fire department showed up to shut the affair down over the aforementioned occupancy permit.
Speaking with the fire department rep, Michael Gill, editor and publisher of CAN, floated the question whether the party—then attended by several dozen people—would be permissible if it were a private event attended only by people invited by the magazine. The suggestion was shot down and Naji and Gill agreed to comply. The two offered quick remarks to patrons.
“There’s not an occupancy permit. There’s no argument, there’s nothing we can do without the police coming here, and we don’t want that,” Gill said.
Afterwards, Naji said that he’d been visited twice by Cleveland police that day. The first time, he says, one officer came to his gallery and said Naji “may or may not” have a warrant out for a parking issue unrelated to his recent gallery troubles. Naji said he took care of that issue right away. Later, he said he was visited by a pair of cops asking if everything was in order for that night’s event. At the time, the police seemed satisfied.
Councilman Joe Cimperman was the target of many questions from concerned artists on Twitter and replied that he had been working with Naji to make sure he was in full compliance with city law. “I am working on why he was visited by the Cfd - he is clues to compliance, I agree this is a poor use of city resources,” Cimperman wrote, (sic) throughout.
The closure of his gallery left Naji rushing to salvage the “Drawn and Quartered” drawing competition event that had been scheduled to take place in his gallery May 24. At the last minute, organizers had to scramble to secure the Great Lake Brewing Company’s tasting room as an alternative venue. That event, in turn, was incredibly fun, as has been the intent of all of Naji’s contributions to the community. (A story about the “Drawn and Quartered” event specifically is available at clevescene.com.)
Naji said that his recent legal troubles have become a trend sourced directly to one person. “I’m definitely getting harassed by someone using the legal system and city hall against me,” said Naji, doing everything but mentioning Henry Senyak by name.
Gill said that the fire department representative did not mention any new complaints filed against the gallery the night of May 23, but that it appeared Senyak had been the one to draw the law’s attention to Naji in the first place. Without naming him explicitly, Gill had alluded to someone using the law as the cause of Naji’s recent disruptions during his pre-dispersal remarks to gallery attendees.
“You know there’s been some legal challenges here because of someone in another neighborhood who has in a systematic way made some problems for us, and those problems continue tonight,” Gill said.