A controversial new art exhibit at Grand Haven’s Fire Barn Art Gallery has triggered protests and lawsuits from local activist-groups as well as The Grand River Times, raising doubts as to whether the gallery’s red-carpet Opening Night Gala Event will still take place at 6:00 pm on Thursday evening (July 16). Three separate lawsuits against the Fire Barn Gallery were filed this morning in Ottawa County’s 20th Circuit Court; one suit by The Grand River Times, accusing the Fire Barn and photographer/artist Bob Walma of fraud and copyright infringement; another filed by the Morally Indignant Liberty Foundation (M.I.L.F.), charging that both The Fire Barn and The Grand River Times are portraying M.I.L.F. in terms that are slanderous and libelous, and allege that showing material from The Grand River Times in public amounts to a violation of public-decency standards. A third lawsuit, brought by an unnamed claimant, was dismissed within two hours as “frivolous and without merit”, for seeking to force the Fire Barn into restoring the Cross on Dewey Hill (which the Gallery claims it has nothing to do with).
Trouble began for the local Art Gallery soon after announcing their new Exhibit: “Fact & Fiction in Black & White, featuring the photographs and work of Bob Walma, Editor of The Grand River Times”. Within hours, the Times’ Editor Duncan J. Stuart III issued an angry Tweet: “Call your lawyers Fire Barn – I’m calling mine!!! Bob Walma couldn’t write a Times article to save his life. Stick to your camera, and find a new job!!” Two days later, protesters from M.I.L.F. began picketing in front of the Fire Barn Gallery, bearing placards denouncing The Grand River Times and calling on residents to boycott the exhibit. Floyd Lawson, former M.I.L.F. spokesman and its current spokesperson, says, “I’ve read newspapers all my life, and The Times is no newspaper – it’s much closer to an abomination, or maybe atrocity is a better word, but either way, it’s unquestionably blasphemous, and the Fire Barn is being irresponsible to the point of indecency by showing such irreverent and libelous material in a public place”.
According to Chris Protas, local artist and Fire Barn curator, the show will still open Thursday evening at 6:00 pm, as planned, despite what he terms “legal harassment” by M.I.L.F. and The Grand River Times. Protas explained to reporters that two additional units of Grand Haven Public Safety Officers will ensure the public’s safety and security on Opening Night, and although guests may be asked to empty their pockets and take their shoes off when entering, they will also be offered a special, full-body-frisk for only $10; less than half what is normally charged for a frisk. Protas seemed neither daunted nor deterred, without appearing defiant, during a press conference at the Fire Barn late today. “This entire, so-called ‘controversy’ is nothing but a total fabrication”, Protas told the assembled media. “I’m a fan of The Grand River Times, but let’s face it, Duncan Stuart is well-known as a sensationalist drama-queen, and M.I.L.F. has a reputation for getting worked up over almost anything, so I encourage people to come out Thursday night and see for themselves that there is nothing offensive or profane in our new exhibit.”
The Times’ Editor-in-Chief, Duncan J. Stuart III, addressed a gathered crowd of Grand River Times supporters this afternoon; and while the crowd was comprised of only seven people, it looked extremely crowded in the Times’ small reception area. “I’m confident the Court will see what a clear-cut case of fraud and copyright infringement this is, and shut those bastards down”, said the agitated Editor, “And if we can’t get a ruling to stop the Opening, then we’ll make sure Sandi Dune goes to report on the event for Friday’s edition.”
In a late-breaking development that has surprised local courtroom-watchers, while going largely unnoticed by local train-spotters and most residents, Chief Circuit Judge Edward R. Post has recused himself from presiding over today’s legal proceedings. Known to many as the godfather of Grand Haven nature & landscape photography, Judge ‘Ed’ Post, told reporters it would be a conflict-of-interest for him to sit in judgment over another photographer or a local gallery, citing a landmark case, ‘Gallery Uptown vs. DelVecchio’, and the ensuing riots which erupted after its verdict, as evidence of what can happen when a Judge who is also an artist passes judgment on another artist.