Nadig Reporter - Sunday July 29, 2001
Front Page

Hearing slated on Charybdis citations

By Brian Nadig

When a business opens its doors prior to securing the necessary licenses and zoning changes, its owner is taking a risk, according to a spokeswoman for the city’s law department.

”You can’t just open up,” spokeswoman Jenn Hoyle said. “You’re taking a risk.”

In the case of Charybdis Multi-Arts Complex, 4423 N. Milwaukee Ave., the risk backfired as the city Department of Revenue has issued numerous citations and cease and desist orders against the interactive art studio. All performances at the studio have been halted, and a recent cease and desist order also prevents Charybdis from holding a performance anywhere within city limits.

However, it is not unusual for the city to allow some businesses to remain operating while zoning and incensing issues are sorted out, including two recent examples in the 45th Ward. Hoyle said that what separates the Charybdis case from some others is that the city cannot determine what type of business that it wants to be, citing a wide variety of citations, which have been issued against its owner.

Alderman Patrick Levar (45th) said after a June 27 community meeting on the issue that he gave Charybdis the benefit of doubt, as citations were not issued until about 9 months after it opened last September. He said that he eventually began getting telephone calls at home from residents who were concerned with the studio and that recent raids by revenue department inspectors were prompted by citizen complaints, not by his office.

Levar said that one of his main concerns is that the arts center must go through the proper building and fire safety inspections since large crowds might gather there for some shows. The inspections are conducted during the application process for a public place of amusement license.

WHILE CHARYBDIS has been prohibited from hosting performances, including film discussions, poetry readings and interactive shows, which sometimes have featured dancing, and body painting, it remains open for retail sales. Charybdis currently is host to a visual art gallery, which is open by appointment.

The next court hearing for Charybdis is slated for 9 a.m. Tuesday, July 31, at Branch 23 of Cook County Circuit Court, 5555 W. Grand Ave. Charges against Charybdis include failing to have a public place of amusement license, operating a “teen juice bar” without a license, operating without a retail food license and allowing liquor consumption on the premises.

Gregor Mortis Tatro, the studio’s founder, said that he was ready to go to trial a few weeks ago but that a city prosecutor asked for a delay so that the complaint could be amended. Tatro said that he would win the case because the city has wrongly characterized Charybdis as a host of rave parties.

The victory would step up public pressure on city officials to grant the zoning change, which he needs before he can apply for a public place of amusement license, Tatro said. “We’re artists, not criminals,” he said.

Hoyle said that the city plans to make no motions that would delay the trial further and that the city has completed its amended complaint against Charybdis. She described the changes to the complaint as “not substantive” and mostly minor and technical in nature and said that no new charges have been added to the complaint.

CEASE AND DESIST orders issued July 14 against Charybdis which prevent the studio from holding any performance or silent auction fundraiser in the city are not part of the current criminal complaint and have not been referred to the law department for prosecution, Hoyle said. The revenue department could issue formal citations in connection with the newest cease and desist orders at a later date and could refer the matter at that time to the law department, she said.

Tatro says that recent cease and desist orders are an attempt to prevent him from paying for his legal defense.

Charybdis was planning to hold a silent auction fundraiser at a North Side bar, but revenue department inspectors visited the establishment and warned it not to let the fundraiser be held there Tatro said.

Tatro said that city law does not require him to hold an auctioneer’s license for the type of auction which he was planning to hold and that he thought it was highly unusual for the city to issue cease and desist orders before the fund raising event even began.

”Why would they care (about the silent auction)?” Tatro asked. “They don’t want us to be able to afford lawyers.”

A spokeswoman for the revenue department said that the city’s auctioneer’s ordinance applies whether the format for the auction is silent with bids taken on a piece of paper or the more traditional method of announced bids which are taken by a moderator. The city ordinance does exempt individuals who are acting as auctioneers for not-for-profit groups. Charybdis is a for-profit company.

Tatro said that other forms of harassment also have occurred recently against Charybdis.

SOME OPPONENTS apparently have made “pandering” complaints to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services because of a letter by an 11-year old girl in support of the arts complex, which is posted on Charybdis’ Web site. The girl’s mother told Tatro that she contacted DCFS, which responded that it has had inquiries about the matter but that the agency considers the matter a First Amendment issue and is not investigating it, he said.

Tatro said that a lawyer familiar with harassment cases against art groups warned him that some opponents might use the letter to make a complaint with DCFS.

Police also visited the art studio about 10 days ago after receiving a complaint about a meeting being held there, Tatro said. Two people were in the studio at the time, and police left a short time later, he said.

In the criminal case against Charybdis, Hoyle said, the city is not commenting on the content of the art at the studio. The charges refer to the studio’s failure to follow the normal procedures prior to opening up a business, she said.

While city officials have hinted that a videotape confiscated during a May 20 raid indicates that Charybdis might have crossed the line between art and adult entertainment, Tatro strongly denies those allegations. A viewing of the tape would show that Charybdis is a “cool place” where visitors are encouraged to express themselves, he said.

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