Nadig Press - Wednesday June 6, 2001
Front Page

Charybdis raided second time for lack of required licenses

By Brian Nadig
Staff Writer

Despite several cease and desist orders and two recent raids by city inspectors, the Charybdis Multi-Arts Complex, 4423 N. Milwaukee Ave., will remain open for selected activities, but donations to cover operating expenses will no longer be collected, according to studio owner Gregor Mortis.

"They want to take us out," Mortis said, adding that most events at the interactive performance art complex have been canceled. "We are effectively shut down," he said.

On Thursday night, May 31, city revenue inspectors raided Charybdis for the second time in less than 2 weeks, and police arrested Mortis and a volunteer worker. Two undercover revenue agents attended a film discussion workshop at Charybdis, and each made a small donation, Mortis said.

About 45 minutes into the showing of the movie "Shallow Grave," police officers and inspectors entered the building and confiscated the $48, which had been collected for the film workshop, and about $7 that had been collected to cover some of the food expenses, Mortis said. He said that no entrance fees were collected at the door, as had previously been done during some art shows there, and that visitors were told that they were not required to contribute any money toward the event.

One officer commented during the raid that the arrests were unnecessary for such a small amount of money, Mortis said.

MORTIS SAID that he was charged with operating without a public place of amusement incense and without a retail-food license and that he was given two citations for violating cease and desist orders.

Officers detained about 20 workshop participants, Mortis said. "They felt that their rights were trampled," he said.

Mortis also was arrested during a raid on May 20, when $225 in entrance fees reportedly was confiscated in addition to about $1,400 in cash, which Mortis said was in his possession. Mortis received four citations in connection with the May 20 raid.

While no art shows are planned for Charybdis, a community group was scheduled to hold a meeting there Monday evening, June 4, and a group of circus performers was slated to rehearse there the same night, Mortis said. Some members of Charybdis have been working on their individual art projects at the studio since the raids, and Mortis said that his general business license for Charybdis would allow him to sell his own works there.

Last week Charybdis hosted a fundraiser for a local school, and Mortis said that inspectors likely waited to conduct the second raid until after that event. "They donít want to look bad," he said.

DESPITE THE placement of stickers at the entrance of Charybdis stating that the business has been closed by order of the city Department of Revenue, Mortis maintains that the studio can remain open as long as no money is collected for any shows there.

At issue are those "donations," as described by Mortis. According to the Department of Revenue, any money collected as the result of a show or activity at Charybdis, which is a for-profit company, is considered an entrance fee. Unless a business has a public place of amusement license, such fees cannot be collected, according to a department spokeswoman.

Mortis said that the money collected at his art events are used to cover operating expenses and that all workers, including himself, are volunteers.

"They donít want us to make money at all," Mortis said, adding that it is highly unlikely that the studio could afford to move to another location. "Iím looking at thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars in fines," he said.

John Mariane, a revenue department investigator, said that while Charybdisí business license allows for the retail sale of artwork, other activities are not allowed, even if no fees are collected for the events or services.

Because the capacity of the studio is over 100, a public amusement license is required for any type of show there, he said.

THE REVENUE departmentís cease and desist orders refer only to those categories covered by the cityís amusement license laws and other type of license violations which Mortis-has been cited for, Mariane said. In the meantime, he said, the studioís doors can remain open but only for retail purposes, as stated on his license application, Mariane said, adding that food sales are not allowed under his license.

Mortis said that he would gladly purchase an amusement license but that the city will not issue him one until he receives a special use permit for the site. "I want to do this the right way," he said.

Mortis blames Alderman Patrick Levar (45th) for blocking his attempts to obtain a special use permit. "Heís holding the cards," he said, adding that the alderman said about 4 months ago that he would hold a community meeting to discuss the issue but that none has been scheduled.

Mortis said that because the issuance of a special permit is out of his control, he feels Charybdis is operating as legally as possible. "Just because the city says something, it doesnít make it (wrong)," he said.

Police made unannounced visits to his studio on at least two earlier occasions and found no illegal activities, such as drug use there, Mortis said. "Weíve got nothing to hide," he said.

While there was a report of a naked woman found at the studio during the May 20 raid, the woman only removed her top, Mortis said. As part of an interactive show, the woman covered her body with paint, but there was nothing obscene about her activity, he said.

"Whoís to decide what art is and art isn't?" Mortis asked, noting that an adult video store operates on the same block as Charybdis.

Mortis added that he would welcome the presence of a police officer at all of his shows. "I'd feel better," he said.

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