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Long Story Short: Know when to fold, know when to buy art


December 4, 2018, From A.J. Fries's 365 project (courtesy of AJ Fries)


We have a winner!

Imagine you are a powerful US state, like say, New York. And as such a powerful state, you have the best contract lawyers working for you. Your attorneys draft up an agreement with the Seneca Nation that allows them to build gambling casinos on your land (which becomes its land), but the Native American tribe must share twenty-five percent of its profits with you. Then, after fourteen years, you discover your lawyers did some sloppy work, which the Seneca Nation believes makes it no longer required to share profits. Pretty embarrassing, right? It’s enough to make a blue state turn red!


Well, that’s just what happened.  Money that was supposed to come back to the state, and help Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and Salamanca—all casino-hosting cities that have grown dependent on that cash like a junkie depends on his supplier—has been cut off since the spring of 2017. Believe us, casino-cash cold turkey hurts bad. Many vital programs and initiatives have been put on hold in communities across the state. New York argued that the Seneca Nation violated the compact, and the issue has been wrapped up in binding arbitration for many months.


What happened last week?     

A three-person arbitration panel ruled in a two-to-one decision that the tribe is wrong, and it has to pay the state somewhere around $200 million. The arbitration panel acknowledged that the compact was ambiguous, and—specifically—went “silent” about what happens after fourteen years.  But the panel cited various state and national laws to determine that the terms of the compact continued to be in effect after the end of the initial fourteen-year term.


There’s also a federal law that states close or uncertain questions of law between Native Americans and states must be resolved in favor of Native Americans. But the panel felt that siding with the Seneca Nation would “put aside conventional tools of fact finding, legal analysis and contract interpretation in favor of this unique rule of decision based on the identity of one party. We decline to do so in this case.”


The Seneca tribe doesn’t agree.


What now?

The Seneca Nation can pay up, or it can refuse. If it refuses, the compact allows for only one alternative: the state sues the Indians in federal court. It’s perhaps disturbing to know that so much of New York’s economy depends on an activity that is ostensibly illegal and has negative impacts on the poor and on people with gambling addiction. What happens next? Place your bets.



The bodycam cometh

After years of discussion, Buffalo police will start wearing bodycams later this month, after the Common Council’s approval to purchase 550 of the devices. Bodycams have been touted by police and citizens alike, for essentially the same reason—they show what really happens when police encounter members of the public. Unfortunately, they don’t always. The video recordings are often subject to interpretation, which has happened in many cases.   


However, having some evidence is better than only the word of the officer against the word of a citizen.  When they are rolled out in Buffalo in the coming weeks, they come with a set of rules for their use.  

Here’s a summary:
The cameras must be on any time the officer responds to a call, including:
Any call for service
Any traffic stop
During execution of a search or arrest warrant
During any arrest or custodial stop
While conducting investigatory activities, including any search of a person, vehicle or property
During a foot pursuit or vehicle pursuit
While conducting traffic control
While assigned to a protest or conducting crowd control
During confrontational or adversarial contact with a citizen
Any other situation deemed necessary by the police commissioner or the body camera administrator


There will be instances when police will be prohibited from activating the cameras, such as in hospitals, places of worship, gym locker rooms, or if they are talking to juvenile crime or sex assault victims, confidential informants, or undercover officers. Officers can use discretion if other crime victims ask not to be recorded. Also, the cameras can be turned off if anyone is in immediate danger and turning the device on would interfere with safety. These exceptions are meant to protect the public. 


•Recorded footage will be kept for a limited time, unless there is evidence of a crime.
•Public access will be limited. Requests for copies of footage must be made under the state Freedom of Information Law.
•Any civilian who is recorded by an officer’s body camera will have the right to review footage “unless it is part of an ongoing criminal proceeding or other legal investigation.”
•It’s not yet clear when body camera footage becomes a “personnel record,” which may be used for evaluating performance and the release of which is limited under state law.
•Once turned on, the camera should not be turned off until the situation is “stabilized,” meaning the event is fully completed. Officers must state why they are turning it off before they do.
•Officers are not permitted to review body camera footage or receive an accounting of the footage before completing initial reports, statements, or interviews about an incident.



365 easy pieces

Buffalo artist A.J. Fries spent a year creating one painting a day. On January 6, a one-week exhibition of the 365 works went on display at a downtown gallery.


Then something remarkable happened.


The details:

When the doors to Fries’ show opened at the Main Street Gallery, there was a line of people out the door, anxiously hoping to purchase the work of their choice. That simply doesn’t happen in Buffalo, a notoriously difficult art market. The exhibition itself was jammed, at times almost too crowded for the space. So why all the excitement?  What made this exhibition so unique?


Here’s why:

Fries is one of Buffalo’s favorite artists, certainly among the most popular painters. Over the years he has demonstrated an uncanny, almost Warholian, knack for identifying subject matter that resonates with people. He has celebrated the mundane, as with his deadpan painting of a chipped plaster wall, or a bare ceiling lightbulb. Other times—and this is more often the case—he latches onto something that has universal familiarity and appeal, such as his Monopoly pieces, or the Fisher Price Little People he recently exhibited at Meibohm Fine Arts, in East Aurora.


Second, the idea of a painting each day for a year is a great concept, and the individual works of iconic items, at 4” x 6” each, are affordably priced, making this a great opportunity to own one of the artist’s works.


Finally, the artist’s wife, Karen Eckert, orchestrated a brilliant homegrown marketing campaign, insuring that the exhibition—and the opportunity to own an original Fries—was not to be missed. She created a website displaying the paintings, organized by date. There was an opportunity to purchase paintings in advance, though not specific ones, so people were lining up a full hour before the opening in hopes of getting the painting(s) they wanted. It was the Black Friday of art sales.


Fries speaks:

“Thinking of stuff was sometimes the hardest part,” Fries admits, “I had a file of images on my computer, but the funny thing is that I rarely used them.” That’s because, while he was looking through the saved images, other ideas would pop into his head. “Sometimes it took longer to think of the subject than it did to paint it,” he explains. Fries hadn’t seen some of the works for almost a year since he painted them. “Seeing the show up was interesting,” he recalls, “especially how they interacted with each other on the walls.”


And what did he think of the crowd?  “The lineup of people scared the shit out of me,” Fries says. He worried, “What if people thought the work in person sucked, and then they waited in line to see and buy something? I was freaked out and a little embarrassed. It was humbling.” But the mood at the opening was anything but disappointed; picking out that perfect image turned into an exciting (if occasionally frantic) hunting adventure for would-be collectors.


Not too late

About half a year’s worth of works sold, mostly at that single opening reception. But that leaves well over 150 great little paintings still up for grabs. “People can go to ajfriesprintshop.com and click on AJF365 to see available works and purchase them,” Fries explains, and then he adds in his characteristic self-deprecating manner, “or hurl insults.”  Not likely. 



Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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