Numerous allegations against the Armory art gallery, but Somerville officials fail to produce evidence

Parama Chattopadhyay, right, speaks in October in her Out of the Blue art gallery with elected Somerville city councilor Beatriz Gómez Mouakad. (Photo: Out of the Blue via Facebook)

The Out of the Blue Art Gallery is under pressure to leave the Somerville Armory building by a campaign of “bullying and harassment” from the city, including an incident in which police were called in. false pretenses, said co-owner Parama Chattopadhyay.

The city has its own allegations against Chattopadhyay and the gallery, including that the armory’s zoning does not allow “public gatherings” in its space, and that events that the gallery or its outside tenants are organizing there violate Out of. the Blue’s bail – and are “unsupervised parties in which alcohol and marijuana were brought out.”

The gallery has held “raves” inside the Armory, according to a letter sent Thursday by Eileen McGettigan, the town’s special counsel.

While the term paints a picture of crowded spaces filled with ecstasy and glow sticks dancing to electronic music, in an email Friday city spokeswoman Denise Taylor said the term ” seems to be a summary term for many, high music- dance parties and volume concerts.

Officials contacted at the end of last week and again on Monday did not provide any examples of either or of roommates complaining about concerts, parties or raves.

“They’re just throwing words,” said Chattopadhyay attorney Mark Delaney of Ryan Litigation & Advocacy in Arlington, referring to the “rave” allegations at the Armory.

Transition to the Armory

The Town of Somerville took the building in May from its owners, the Sater family of Cambridge, with a prominent $ 5 million estate deposit approved by City Council intended to keep the building forever as a community art space. . Over the summer, Out of the Blue and 10 other companies already leasing space in the Armory got what they feared was the December 31 eviction notices, forcing a city official to explain that there was “no intention of asking tenants in good standing to leave in the near future. The new leases offer stays until June.

Although a few of the tenants complained about a lack of communication from the city and an inability to manage the building professionally during the transition, the official reaction to the art gallery and its vocal leader seems to be a special case. “The Armory’s problems are not limited to mismanagement, but include the city’s efforts to intimidate and harass Parama for his justified criticism of the way the city is handling its management of the Armory and its vision for it. ‘future,’ Delaney said on a Tuesday. letter. He said the tactics included attempting to cut off access to a gallery mailbox and “transparent retaliation” allowing complications around a gallery event. Chattopadhyay ended up not serving cider and snacks at a free reception on October 23 for an exhibit called “Kids Envision Peace,” curated by 10-year-old Naomi Nurenberg.

Police responded

Frank Knight, performer at an event on November 19 at the Out of the Blue Art Gallery. (Photo: Underground Advocatez via Facebook)

The situation worsened on November 19 when the city official – Thomas Galligani, director of economic development for Somerville and the person responsible for putting the Armory under new management – called the police on Out of the Blue. According to a police report provided by the gallery, he said he was “illegally renting out the basement for a party which he says is currently hosting underage drinking,” and that he “would like that the party is closed and the tenant is withdrawn “.

The four officers who answered the 7:38 p.m. call only found an oral reading from poets from New York City, Chattopadhyay said. The police report shows that the police left at 8:07 p.m., simply noting that there was “no sign of underage alcohol consumption.”

“Thank goodness the cops were ethical, fair and kind to my guests,” Chattopadhyay said, “and I was not placed on the streets in the winter.”

Outdoor rentals are a key part of the gallery’s activities, and performances have been a part of Out of the Blue’s work long before it arrived at the Armory in February – an arrangement that includes a live work unit for Chattopadhyay. . Out of the Blue had been a staple around Cambridge for 21 years, using the same model of organizing events alongside visual art, before its price was set in December 2017. The gallery would “absolutely” fail if it did. couldn’t organize events, said Chattopadhyay. On Monday.

Zoning issue

The Armory’s zoning includes art gallery use, according to McGettigan’s letter, but the conflict stems from a definition of art that extends beyond visual works hanging on the wall – that is why galleries and museums such as the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston or its Institute of Contemporary Art host film screenings and performances by singers and poets. Still, the armory’s special permit allows “public gatherings” only in the building’s performance hall and cafe, according to the city.

Chattopadhyay and the city have been at odds since seizing the eminent domain. When Delaney stepped in, he said, he asked for written policies or procedures so that she “could know what she could or couldn’t do” and was directed to the unknown 2012 zoning of Chattopadhyay . “They say retroactively that she should have known about this zoning,” he said, although his company has followed the same model since before the city was owned.

“The city takes over and something changes?” Well that’s good. But you have to let tenants know that something has changed, ”Delaney said.

Delaney also believes the city is twisting what the zoning says.

New administration coming soon

While all tenants were offered a lease that would extend their tenancies until June 30, Chattopadhyay said it was based on signing a lease that Delaney called “illegal,” filled with conditions that are “clearly too broad and only benefit the city. In fact, the terms of this agreement hardly resemble a lease, more akin to a compensation agreement in favor of the city,” in which Chattopadhyay is held responsible for construction defects of which she has no knowledge and tenants who sign and later have legal issues with the city must pay the city’s lawyers as well as their own, even if the court rules in their favor.

Mark Niedergang, an outgoing city councilor for Ward 5 of Somerville, said last month in a letter shared by Chattopadhyay that he believed the city would soon hire a company to manage the building and sort out maintenance issues, and that a consultant would be hired to help manage a public process to determine the future of the building which would take “at least until the middle of 2022”. There are a handful of vacant spaces in the building, but the city has no plans to lease the spaces until the planning process is completed in late spring or early summer, said Galligani. Until recently, an empty space belonged to the Červená Barva Press and Lost Bookshelf store run by poet Gloria Mindock. It closed on November 6 after nearly nine years in the Armory.

“There will be a new mayor … and the new administration, I hope and I wait, will look into this situation and decide whether to take the course which is [Somerville executive director of community development George] Proakis and Gallagani have arranged, ”Niedergang wrote.

Meanwhile, Delaney said, “They’ve been running this place for six months and have no written policies. They don’t have written procedures. They don’t have professional management. They don’t even have a janitor there… They’re really handling this in an unprofessional way.

“There is also a personal animosity between Parama and a few people involved, and unfortunately that has clouded their judgment,” said Delaney.

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