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When Art and Bureaucracy Clash

Outdoor installation in Clifton Childree’s yard. Photo courtesy of Clifton Childree

By Victor Barrenceha

Clifton Childree is an artist whose work always seems to be at odds with the law.  We all remember last summer when police officers burst in and shot a mannequin at Childree’s “Dream-Cum-Tru” installation at Locust Projects. Now it seems the City of Miami Code Enforcement Department is ordering Clifton to tear down an art installation in his own backyard.

It all started on February 13 when Childree received a notice on the garage door of his Brentwood home, near the Design District and Miami Gardens. The violation, as Childree puts it, was for “miscellaneous debris” in the front yard – specifically two halves of a discarded stage, the wood of the structure waiting to be used as part of an installation being built in the backyard for the Pulse New York art fair that coincides from March 5-8 with the Armory Show in NYC.

Outdoor installation in Clifton Childree’s yard. Photo courtesy of Clifton Childree

The installation is a deteriorating mini movie theater that will host Childree’s latest film “Miamuh Swamp Adventure,” about a couple who buy land in turn-of-the-century Miami, only to receive useless swampland instead — a common scam from that time-period. As the story gets progressively stranger, and the plot unhinges, the actual film stock begins to wildly deteriorate in rhythm.

Complete with two shooting galleries and decorated by mannequins dressed as characters from the movie, this theater takes up about 400 sq feet of the yard, with 20 x 20 dimensions, resembling a structure perhaps the size of a large tool shed. Scattered around the installation were found objects, garbage and old antiques, used as materials to build the theater.

Childree had until the February 23rd to move these items or face a fine of up to $50 to $500 a day. “I immediately moved them,” he recalls, and called up Camesuze Quetant, the code enforcement inspector who issued the citation, to come out and verify. When he called, however, he was astonished to find a separate set of charges had been leveled against him. Neighbors, upon seeing the ‘open-air’ bedroom movie set in the backyard, had called in to complain that the filmmaker was building an addition to the house for the purpose of renting it out.

Outdoor installation in Clifton Childree’s yard. Photo courtesy of Clifton Childree

Childree, who often works on projects in his home, building sets and shooting scenes in the backyard, wanted to have the inspector down to the house to show her the structure was merely a movie set/art installation, with no plans to second as a habitation. Last Monday, Quetant finally came out the house and Childree says she was astonished by what she found. Weird mannequins with their heads chopped off in the garage, Childree’s movie theatre with collapsed ceiling in the backyard, as well as piles of rotted wood, scattered furniture, and other debris.

“She told me ‘No, no, no, you can’t do that!’” Childree says, as he tried to explain to her it was just an art project. Two antique cast-iron tubs adorning the yard had to be removed. “To her, if it’s old, it’s junk. They don’t look like junk to me. These are decorations.” The inspector spewed out a flurry of code infractions on the property, which have to be taken care of by sometime mid-March.

By that time, the installation will have already been dismantled, packed up, and shipped out to New York for the show. Nevertheless, the artist finds the incident completely disheartening. “I feel like I’m being singled out,” he says. “What am I allowed to do?” he wonders. “I like being able to do this in my backyard. I want to be able to do it and not have to worry about having to take it down.”


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  • I was there

    The problem is getting caught in the web of Bureaucracy. Since the house is in a residential neighborhood, he is at the mercy of Camesuze Quetant, who many have issues with him using the yard to WORK instead of LIVE. Once they catch wind of him using the house for anything more than just living a docile existence they will fine him Up the Yazoo.
    Yet this is Free Country! [not!]

  • david Rohn

    : we were fined $500.for pruning our tree (more than 25%) and a friend is trying to build a green’ house -we’d looked into geo thermal cooling and knew from past experience we d have to do it on the sly- no way the Miami Bldg Inspectors have any idea of what that is or how to build it.And finding out would threaten them.(In the end it was WAAAAAY too expensive)
    So this friend is having all sorts of trouble -the inspectors are mostly ignorant like the police and were hired for reasons that have nothing to do with competence. We had an inspector for a fence who wanted to convert me to his church- I went along with it saying ‘my mother would like that’ Of course conmmunicating with him was difficullt although I speak french Spanish and English- the French sorta kinda worked.-and finally got him to look at and approve the fence. Six months later we got a letter saying we had a fine and to renew our permit which had expired -several phone calls and an early morning trip to the bldg dept showed the inspector had never bothered to put the approval record in the computer.Complaining about these things is useless these people can t be fired -and were probably hired for political patronage.
    Another friend who opened the first art gallery in Wynwood ( which the city now (smelling money) boosts in the form of giving many liquor licenses the the Goldman developers,)) was told he needed to provide 80 parking spaces ( hey that’s 80 more than the city provided for the Performing Arts Center).
    The city only cooperates with innovation when it sees $$ for itself.
    And I of course was detained by 8 police cars for 3 hours for taking pictures of myself in a Muslim women’s dress with a baby carriage with 2 dolls in it Seems the policewoman who drew her gun on me ( roughly the equivalent to a 3rd grade education)thought that a terrorist would do something like this to blend in. later another idiotic policewoman challenged me by saying ‘what do you think you’re doing for tourism by doing this?” ( guess they re taught law enforcement is about tourism) I told her that “there’s art tourism in Miami too, you know like the Basel Fairs”. She tilted her head to the side and made a wondering face like a dog who’s heard a strange noise..
    Sounds like Clifton’s neighbors are like the ones who called the police on me – desperately afraid of anything that seems different, and righteously anxious to stamp it out. Seems like the education system has collapsed and an ignorant status quo wherby only things that generate money make sense, governs thinking.

  • david Rohn

    Experiences with inspectors and police in Miami
    One came to approve our new fence couldn t communicate in English, Spanish or French -finally kinda sorta used french -wanted to convert me to his church I went along with it taking a brochure saying my mother would like that,finally asking if we could check the fence it was ok til we got a letter from the city 6 months later telling us our permit had expired and we had to pay to renew it ,, Several phone calls and an early AM visit to bldg dept- the inspector had never entered his approval in the computer.Oh well he was probably hired out of political patronage and in any event can t be fired unless he becomes a “sex offender”
    When the young art lover who opened the first gallery in Wynwood tried to get a license from the city he was told he d need 80 parking spaces- (that s 80 more than the Performing Arts Centrer has)
    Now that the city smells$$ they lavish endless liquor licenses on the Goldman developers ( Hey ‘Joey’s doesn t have a parking lot does it?)
    Another friend is trying to build a ‘green’ house using new technology- the inspectors have no idea what any of it is about and are putting him thru hell- down the road we’ll have to listen to how ‘green’ Miami is no doubt.
    My own experience (aside from having been fined $500 for pruning a scarily large tree that looms over our house):
    the time I was held at gunpoint by 8 police cas for 3 hours, handcuffed and shouted at” what do you think you re doing for tourism by doing something like this” (I d explained it was an art project- they retorted in disbelief ‘what school do you go to?) -Couldn t understand it was a project initiated by me and not related to a school
    (I was Photographing myself in a Muslim chador pushing a double baby carriage with 2 dolls in it)
    I tried to point out that” we have art tourism too-you know like the Basel Art Fairs” The police woman tilted her head and made a childlike wondering face( made me think of a dog when it hears a strange sound)- I think this poor woman had the equivalent of a 3rd grade education. ( having her hold a gun on me was very disturbing) Seems she and her colleagues thought I was a terrorist trying (I guess) to look unobtrusive while I pwerformed my mission of terror.
    Miami ‘s art community needs to know we exist in a vacum of collapsed education and fear, and a value system that sees merit only in things that generate money.

  • Jay Fiedler

    Camesuze Quetant is the most insensitive Nazi waste of life you’ll ever come across. She camps in our neighborhood in a city car with her A\C on, getting paid with taxpayer’s dollars just watching houses. She then singles one or two people out to terrorize for the next month. Usually it’s old Haitian women without a dime to their name, or the new white people that moved to the neighborhood. Brand new non-permitted work can be going on right in front of her, and she’ll gladly overlook it. She only tickets based on the mood she’s in. She’ll mail out a violation one day, and not post or notify you at your property until several days later. There’s got to be a way to get rid of these people. I’ve met plenty of code enforcement folks who are actually quite reasonable and nice. Give an unhappy lout like Camesuze a badge, and there’s hell to pay. She’s truly a wart on the city of Miami and doesn’t care about anything but sitting in the A\C of her car everyday waiting to ruin your day.

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When Art and Bureaucracy Clash