Defense Contractor Tells Artists: Our Products Are Art, Too

The sitcom-worthy clash between Midway Studios artists and defense contractor Ops-Core escalated last night during a fractious community meeting that devolved into shouting and jeers. Around 200 people filled the South Boston basement of Artists for Humanity, during a meeting called by the Boston Redevelopment Authority; most of the attendees seemed to be Midway Studios residents opposed to Ops-Core’s recent construction of a combat-helmet assembly plant on their ground floor of what had been a theater.

As guests arrived, each received a full-color, four-page leaflet (you can read it below) from Ops-Core and its parent company, multinational defense corporation Gentex. “We grew up in Fort Point making hand crafted products just like other neighborhood artists,” reads the bolded header on the front page. The leaflet failed to mention that Ops-Core’s DIY endeavors include a helmet called the “Skull Crusher” and other "cutting-edge protective equipment that provides better performance and protection for today's soldier," but let’s not quibble.



Ops-Core’s decision to compare itself to artists seems quite strange, especially when considering founder David Rogers’s February letter to Midway artists which referred to them as “self delluted [sic] bullshiters [sic] and drama queens who use art as an excuse to justify and rationalize their pathetic existence [sic].” Perhaps Ops-Core has had a skull-crushing change of heart: Above stock photos of smiling artists at work, the pamphlet’s comparison continues [the bold is my emphasis]:

Since our inception, we have been designing, sewing, and custom assembling protective products here with our other creative neighbors. Our work is no different than a fashion designer making a line of dresses, a ceramicist making bowls or dishes to sell, or a painter making multiple prints of a popular design. We consider our products to be works of art, and so do our customers. The processes that are required to make our products require the same type of space and creative atmosphere as other artist businesses in the community.

The comments Rogers delivered last night stressed his ties to the neighborhood and the safety of Ops-Core’s assembly process. He did not make any mention of his letter. Some Midway residents couldn’t contain their frustration, peppering Rogers’s speech with derisive laughter and variants of yeah, right.

“We thought it would be a nice place where we could all work together,” Rogers said of Ops-Core's new home. 

Representatives from the BRA, a city inspector, and spokespeople for the Fort Points Arts Community and Midway Studios delivered prepared statements without incident. City Councilor Felix Arroyo and State Senate Majority Leader Jack Hart spoke out in favor of finding Ops-Core a new home. “Based on this turnout, it should not be there [in Midway Studios],” Hart said. The crowd cheered.

But the meeting deteriorated immediately following the statements of representatives from Keene Development, the owner of Midway Studios. Company president Dan Taylor claimed that in spite of their best intentions, a lousy economy had thwarted Keene’s efforts to “land a serious performance group or other art company” as permanent tenants in the theater space.

Concerned Midway residents asked a series of questions about the air quality in their building and the strange smells and noises coming from its basement. (Ops-Core's handouts claim that it must "respect the limitations on disclosing confidential product information" because its clients "include divisions of the US military and police agencies." While Ops-Core admits its facility uses fume-generating epoxies, paint, and rubbing alcohol, the company claims it does not exceed Federal standards for Volatile Organic Compounds. According to the Boston Globe, "The city’s Inspectional Services Department issued a stop work order to Ops-Core on Feb. 24 as a result of residents’ concerns.")

Over the agitated rumblings of the crowd, Rogers assured the audience that his process was safe, especially when compared to the neighboring Gillette factory. “Other people in the neighborhood do things that could be dangerous as well,” Rogers said. The audience erupted in derisive laughter.

A man in the back wasn't laughing. “But they’re not in our building!” he yelled.

Rogers attempted Ops-Core’s environmental emissions over the jeers of the crowd. Event moderator Kairos Chen, the director of planning at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, struggled to maintain order. Rogers’s attempts to placate the crowd included comparing his production facility to a wood shop.

An audience member asked for assurance that, if Ops-Core was allowed to stay, it would not ramp-up production in Midway Studios. As Keene Asset Manager Scott Dumont explained that it would not, an audience member shouted over him. “We don’t trust you!” he said.

“You don’t have to trust me!” Dumont said.

“That’s it!” said a man at the back of the room, and left.

In the coming months, the city will decide if and when Ops-Core can resume production in what was once the Midway Studios theater. In the meantime, let’s hope there’s not a run on Skull Crushers.

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