A local man wants a judge to void the Aspen Art Museum’s ban that prevents him from stepping foot on property owned by the institution.
Lee Mulcahy filed a lawsuit against Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, the museum’s director and curator, in Pitkin County Court on Thursday. The lawsuit, which seeks $250, says his ban from the museum’s future location, an empty lot at Hopkins Avenue and Spring Street, is unconstitutional.
The artist and former ski instructor apparently ran afoul of the museum in November. Detractors of the museum’s relocation into downtown hung “For Sale” signs on two tractor-trailers at the future site. The museum’s manager told police that he had video footage of Mulcahy hanging the signs, according to an officer’s report.
Mulcahy’s lawsuit against Zuckerman Jacobson contains a letter to The Aspen Times from Aspen resident Richie Cohen in which Cohen admits to hanging the “For Sale” signs. The court filing also mentions Zuckerman Jacobson’s comments to the Aspen Daily News about the vandalism. She said in November that the museum would be installing lights and cameras on the new site to deter similar acts.
She also referenced the signs on display in New York City subways — “If you see something, say something,” she said at the time, encouraging people to call police or the museum if they witness suspicious activity.
“To protest this treatment of the community, the plaintiff created an art piece, wrote a letter criticizing [Zuckerman Jacobson] entitled ‘Criminal or Hilarious?’ and … painted ‘Meet the Art Police,’” Mulcahy wrote in the court filing.
Mulcahy, representing himself, says in the lawsuit that on another occasion, he taped a “citation from the citizens of Aspen” and a piece of art inspired by Occupy Wall Street “onto the museum’s sign and surveillance camera pole.”
He was later told that he had been banned from the vacant lot.
Mulcahy, who on Wednesday filed a libel lawsuit against Aspen Skiing Co. CEO Mike Kaplan in connection with the plaintiff’s dismissal from the company in January 2011, cites the First Amendment in his suit against Zuckerman Jacobson.
The amendment “is designed to protect artistic and other expressive activities from petty tyranny,” the lawsuit says.
Asked for comment about both lawsuits, Mulcahy late Thursday sent an email containing quotes from former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass. He did not respond to additional efforts to reach him Friday.
Because of the museum’s nonprofit status, Mulcahy apparently considers the future site to be public property.
As such, he and others who similarly disagree with museum officials’ plans “will be chilled and burdened in the exercise of [their] First Amendment rights because of the continued threat of arrest on public property,” the lawsuit says. “The ban is unconstitutionally overboard in that it renders subject to incarceration and other treatment persons who are ‘very verbal’ about the museum.”
Museum spokesman Jeff Murcko said Zuckerman Jacobson had not been served with the lawsuit and declined further comment.
Along with a declaration that the property ban is unconstitutional, Mulcahy wants a permanent injunction barring the enforcement of the ban and punitive damages as determined by a jury.