City officials in Troy, New York apparently used the municipal building code to shut down a controversial video game art exhibit.
As we’ve been tracking on GamePolitics, Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal, a faculty member at the Art Institute of Chicago, was invited to present at – and then abruptly booted from – Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute.
Following his RPI expulsion, Bilal’s Virtual Jihadi exhibit was moved to the nearby Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy. On Monday night, a local Republican political figure, Robert Mirch (left), led a protest against Bilal’s work outside the Sanctuary. Mirch, by the way, also happens to be the Public Works Commissioner for the city of Troy. In that capacity, he is responsible for enforcing building codes.
On Tuesday, as reported by the Albany Times-Union, the Sanctuary for Independent Media was shut down by city code enforcement officials. Sanctuary spokesman Steve Pierce told the newspaper:
They put us out of business. They said we had doors that were not up to code.
Pierce made additional comments to the Schenectady Daily Gazette:
The only thing different between the day before and [Tuesday] is we have an Iraqi artist protesting the war. The next day, the city sent code enforcement to us and we were cited.
City Councilman Bill Dunne said:
This isn’t the first time that code enforcement has operated in a fashion like this. It certainly on the surface smacks of political retribution.
Kathy High, an RPI Arts professor, added:
I guess we could cycle through all of the art galleries in the city and have the city shut them all down. This will make people afraid to show the exhibit and that is very wrong.
GP: Whether you like Bilal’s work or hate it, to see political officials in the United States wield the power of law to shut down controversial expression is scary stuff, indeed.