70 Puppet Makers Taken into Custody During GOP Convention; Philadelphia Police Believed to Have Destroyed Over 100 Puppets
PHILADELPHIA, PA -- Among 280 alleged protestors taken into custody by the Philadelphia police last week, were 70 "puppitistas" from the Ministry of Puppetganda, the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union(ACLU) confirmed.
The puppetmakers were creating puppets for parades and protests during the Republican Convention when Police entered the former trolley work depot at 4100 Haverford Avenue in West Philadelphia where they were working.
According to local sources, Police first arrived and tried to search the building without a search warrant. The puppetmakers refused to let them in without a warrant. The police returned with the warrant, and the puppetmakers opened the doors and allowed them in. The police then proceeded to arrest everyone on the premises. They also took the building owner, artist/carpenter Michael Graves, into custody.
A Philadelphia Police Sergeant in the office of the Deputy Commissioner in charge of demonstrations told Arts Wire on Friday that he wasn't sure how many protestors had been released.
Reportedly, Graves, who studied at the San Francisco Art Institute, had not been released as of last Friday. But Monday Morning as Current went to press, email was received from him saying that he had been released.
"I am out of jail but am facing charges myself and threats against my building from the city," Graves stated.
During the raid, puppetmakers on the site observed the police put over 100 cardboard puppets into trash compactors, according to one of the space coordinators, artist Jodi Netzer. The puppets are believed to have been destroyed.
However, the Police Sergeant with whom Arts Wire spoke said that he was not aware of the destruction of any puppets.
"They put them in trash compactors. Of course they were destroyed," said Netzer.
The indications are that "First Amendment expressive activity was a real concern," said Pennsylvania ACLU Executive Director Larry Frankel. "-- a symbol for the police of something subversive...something that clearly conveys a message. It seems that they were interested not only in detaining individuals but also in destroying the ability to display a message."
Frankel also noted that during most of the convention, there were no problems.
Indeed, The NEW YORK TIMES reported that Pennsylvania ACLU legal director Stefan Presser pointed to the contrast between tensions on August 1 [when according to the ACLU most of the questionable incidents took place] and the scene on Monday when instead of confronting the welfare protestors who marched illegally for three miles down Broad Street, the police chose to escort them.
What was "most problematic was what happened at the puppet space," The ACLU's Frankel told Arts Wire. "It appears from what we know that in this instance police activity was not focused narrowly on people who had any knowledge of criminal activity (if there was any) but rather that there was a technique to try and detain large numbers. including people who had no connection other than their mere presence -- people just there helping with puppets."
The police actions were "clearly disruptive and invasive of first amendment rights if those [arrested] were clearly not intending to engage in nonviolent activity," Frankel emphasized.
"They destroyed a visual message, a visual record of what's going on in the world," Jodi Netzer who works in graphic design, web site design, film and video and theater, stressed. "The puppets are used for de-escalating situations because they are 'friendly'. The media is usually very good about finding some footage on violence. Puppets can counter that."
The week before the convention while activist groups were in the studios making visual props for actions in conjunction with the Republican Convention, Philadelphia Licensing and Inspection briefly shut down another group of puppetmakers -- the Spiral Q Puppet Theater -- for alleged code violations.
"Props draw more attention," said ACLU Executive Director Larry Frankel. "Visual material can draw more attention than a march can."
The trash-compacted cardboard puppets included cockroaches; about 80 skeletons (representing the criminal justice system) balls and chains; (representing racism and racial profiling) an electric chair puppet; and "mouseheads" made from lots of small mice. -- "representing people coming up from underground." Netzer told Arts Wire. "A lot of mice coming together to form one big mouse."
"You can imagine the amount of work involved in making the puppets, she added.
Netzer was walking from a meeting to plan out parade route two blocks away when she saw police just starting to come back. She stayed outside, providing support, and contacting legal and media resources.
Arrested artist Michael Graves, bought the building a few years ago to save it from demolition, with the hopes of turning it into a neighborhood art and performance center, according to Sculptor and Professor Virginia. Maksymowicz.
He makes his living as a flooring contractor, and his business, Abracadabra Floors, operates out of the building. He has held various art events in the trolley depot, including an exhibition last year by sculptor Brian Wagner. Graves' own sculpture has been also been on display in the space.
Although some of the prisoners were detained because they did not identity themselves, Graves did identity himself, according to multiple sources, but he was not immediately released.
Virginia Maksymowicz told Arts Wire that "The police and the media have reported that the following suspicious materials --- in their view materials that were intended to be used to block roads and make bombs -- were found: PVC pipe, chicken wire, chain, oxygen tanks, propane tanks, rags and bottles."
The police said the pvc pipe and chicken wire could be used for bombs, Jodi Netzer confirmed. "They also said a nail within a piece of wood in a puppet could be used as a weapon."
Maksymowicz, who is Assistant Professor of Sculpture at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA, emphasizes that "From the point of view of a sculptor, chicken wire, chain and PVC pipe can be used as the matrix for moveable, portable, papier mache puppets; rags and bottles for brushes and paint; oxy-acetyline for welding and cutting metal; and propane for melting wax, bending plastics, and a host of other things."
"The depot had also been used in the past as a plumbers shop, and Graves runs his flooring business out of it. Any of these materials could well have been connected with the commercial business.," she added.
The ACLU is still involved in the case. They are continuing to study the documents and are working to ascertain what civil liberty violations occurred in the attempt to shut down the puppet space.
A primary concern is people lingering in jail -- even people who have given their names or bail, Frankel emphasized
ACLU OF PENNSYLVANIA
JODI NETZER --
VIRGINIA MAKSYMOWICZ --
Francis X. Clines
Philly IMC / Eddy Nix
"City of Philadelphia Briefly Shuts Down Spiral Q Puppet Theater;
Arts Wire is a service mark of the New York Foundation for the Arts.
Arts Wire CURRENT is a project of Arts Wire, a national computer-based network serving the arts community. Arts Wire CURRENT features news updates on social, economic, philosophical, and political issues affecting the arts and culture. Your contributions are invited. Contact Judy Malloy, editor.
To encourage the exchange of arts information and perspectives, Arts Wire CURRENT contents are not copyrighted unless specifically stated. We ask that you cite Arts Wire CURRENT as well as Arts Wire's url (http://www.artswire.org) when reprinting material. In addition, Arts Wire is very interested in documenting the use of material from Arts Wire CURRENT in other newsletters, publications and on online networks. Please send a copy to: Joe Matuzak, Arts Wire Director.
Home | Art Reviews | Bookstore | eArtist | RSS
Search | About ArtScope.net | Advertise on ArtScope.net | Contact