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Oni Gallery closes indefinitely

This time, the rumors about the Oni Gallery are true. Last July, after cops appeared at the two-level loft space when they mistook a musicianís screams for something potentially criminal, word around town was that the police had closed the Oni. Not true. Then in November, the Chinatown gallery suspended operation for a week when Bostonís Inspectional Services Department (ISD) closed the entire edifice housing the Oni, due to building-code violations for which the property owner was responsible. But the exhibition rooms werenít closed for good, and they reopened soon after. Then, last Thursday, the Oni had to postpone all programming until further notice, including last weekendís "SnuffLoad," a surreal performance-art work by New York artist and playwright Tom Cole. So what happened? Turns out that last Novemberís ISD requirements were never satisfied. An e-mail about the Cole showís postponement put it this way: "Our landlord is dragging his feet on bringing the building up to code, and we are caught in the middle."

Sadly, Boston needs more places like the Oni. Itís one of the areaís few remaining experimental-art sanctuaries, a venue that hosts the likes of Jim OíRourke, the Human Petting Zoo, and the Sex Workers Art Show Tour. The gaping hole in the number of settings for unconventional work in this town had already been made larger when, last summer, the ISD shuttered the Berwick Research Institute, a Roxbury performance space. So is the Oniís ISD-forced closure connected to that of the Berwick? "This situation isnít about targeting arts spaces, itís about having a bad landlord," says Oni director Lydia Eccles. "We simply donít have an occupancy permit. The reason we donít is that our landlord has refused to bring the building up to code."

Eccles says the Oni staff is working with the ISD to get the property owner to make the necessary adjustments. She is reluctant to say much more than that since everything is so tentative, but emphasizes that the ISD isnít the bad guy here. So whatís the best-case scenario? "The landlord does the work and then we reopen," says Eccles. And the worst-case scenario? "We close down."

"SnuffLoad" has been rescheduled for March 27 at the Cambridge Family YMCAís Durrell Hall, 820 Mass Ave, Cambridge, (617) 661-9622; www.cambridgeymca.org. For future Oni developments and updates on rescheduled events, visit www.onigallery.org.

Issue Date: January 23 - 29, 2004
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