Alcatraz Event on YouTube

I'm continuing to think about this Toyota Scion event on Alcatraz. I didn't mention it in the original post two days ago, but the event was called ExpreScion 07 (notice the clever inclusion of the car name there). It turns out that this was a pretty big event. I'd like to know more about it, so I'm making some phone calls now and will write another article soon to answer some questions that have been floating through my mind. In the meantime, check out this video someone has added to YouTube. It's ten minutes long, and, just a word of caution, there is a tiny bit of adult language (I counted the 's' word two times near the begining), other than that, the video is clean. A few things to notice: The Scion's parked as the video starts, and National Park Rangers talking to the crowd at 0:35 and at 4:36.

I was struck by one of the participants comments who seems to be just as confused as I am about why Alcatraz is being used in such a way (Ferris Plock at 2:54): "It's very heavy, going through the cells. It's just, the intensity of it. We're having this celebration out here where so many people suffered. It's really kind of, it's hard. But ... (shrug)." Here's the video.

Comments

I wrote to the NPS Director and already got a response (merely an acknowledgement, but very quick nonetheless). I'll forward whatever future responses I get here... (I sent a similar note to Nancy Pelosi, for what it's worth)

My note:
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Ms. Bomar, I was recently made aware that Alcatraz Island, as you know one of our National Park administered areas, recently allowed Scion (the foreign-owned car company) complete access to Alcatraz Island to host some sort of party (ExpreScion'07). Whether it was a celebration, an advertising gimmick, or anything else, I was rather disturbed to see the "Moulin Rouge"-like atmosphere that was allowed to transpire in a place that should be reserved for nothing but the most dignified purposes. And to see that National Park Service employees, in uniform, also participated in the event, is even more of an insult to those of us who hold our country's national treasures near and dear to our hearts.

Please look into this event and hold those responsible for approving it accountable. In a world where our national parklands are becoming more and more beholden to corporate for-profit interests, this is one place where we need to draw a line in the sand and say "no more."
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Her initial response, less than two hours later:
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Thank you for your email Jon concerning an event at Alcatraz........I want to acknowledge receipt of same and advise you that my Chief of Staff Sue Masica will be investigating this issue and will come back to you. Thanks for supporting our National Parks......Mary
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Mary A. Bomar
Director
National Park Service
Phone: (202) 208-3818
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the Art Institute? disgusting. Our society can no longer justify its facade, trying to conceal love of money, the persons taking part in this are obvious, creepy, sad, and lost. Is this easy to see only to me? Where are the true heros today-and why are they so silent about God?

Here's the response I got from GGNRA -- still waiting for the responses with more apologetic tones from the higher ups.
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Thank you for your comment regarding the private event sponsored by Scion on June 16, 2007, on Alcatraz Island, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service.

The National Park Service issues special use permits to accommodate private tours and receptions on Alcatraz Island. These events are conducted after hours and are closely monitored by National Park Service staff to ensure compliance with permit conditions designed to prevent damage to park resources and maintain visitor safety.

All special events on Alcatraz Island are required to have an educational component. In the case of the Scion event, event organizers worked with National Park Service and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy interpretation staff to design a program integrating ranger talks with dance performances, ecologically sustainable fashions, and an art gallery featuring original paintings, photographs and sculptures on the themes of Alcatraz and transformation. The art gallery will remain on display for several weeks, offering an enhanced experience of the island for visitors who are interested in art.

The National Park Service issues special use permits for a wide variety of commercial uses, including the filming of television and print advertisements for a variey of products and services. The National Park Service does not use the nationality of the applicant as a basis for granting or denying these permits.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call me at (415) 561-4301. Thanks again for contacting the National Park Service.

Sincerely,
Rudy Evenson
Chief, Special Park Uses
Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Mr. Evenson,

Thanks for response. I'm sure you've had to entertain a fair number of these kinds of inquiries. Sorry I wasn't more specific.

Not sure if this qualifies as "ecologically sustainable fashion", or perhaps this was that "educational component" you spoke of:
http://media.sfweekly.com/923164.36.jpg

Here's a nice shot of the "guests" preventing damage to park resources. How thoughtful of them to care. I guess hanging on the bars is considered "compliance with the permit agreement"?
http://media.sfweekly.com/923159.36.jpg
http://theblight.net/gallery/alcatraz/PICT45557.jpg
http://theblight.net/gallery/alcatraz/PICT45904.jpg
http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1355/568153623_62455e0815_b.jpg

Toilet for a stepstool?
http://theblight.net/gallery/alcatraz/PICT44362.jpg

Climbing on the furniture?
http://theblight.net/gallery/alcatraz/PICT46035.jpg

Please tell me this mattress and bed and the destroyed feather pillow was brought over by the "artists" and not property of the National Park Service:
http://images.tribe.net/tribe/upload/photo/c49/0e8/c490e88d-1a0c-401a-9fce-364c31ed9b15
http://theblight.net/gallery/alcatraz/PICT46128.jpg

Some quotes in the news that particularly bothered me:

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Word got out, and by 9 p.m., hundreds more invited friends of friends were ferried onto the island, (Prem) Kumta said. That was both a good and a bad thing. "It was a last-minute thing to ferry over hundreds of extra people," he said.
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"It's a culture. We all kind of know each other. Here are these ugly little cars that kind of grow on you." So did the party -- even if it was hard to see people's faces through the bad lighting and cigarette smoke, and track down the various events in the maze of rooms and deal with the crowded bar and lack of snacks. (And a snafu with the return ferry scheduling).
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And this gem from some idiot's blog (bigbaadwolf.blogspot.com):
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Tuesday, June 19, 2007 Scion Exprescion: Alcatraz Island, SF
Last Saturday I went to the Scion Exprescion party on Alcatraz. Got there early with Sleazemore and we hung out on the island running around, smoking, laughing, watching people set everything up. Once the party started things got crazy; fashion show in the shower room, rave and a few bands played in the dining hall, cabaret performance in the hospital, art show upstairs. Thanks to Scion for paying for everything. Thanks to the dude who hooked up some E so I could snort on the rock. Thanks to Irene from Real World Seattle for surviving Lime Disease and making it to the event, she is still looking fierce as ever - f*** that dude who slapped her (he didn't make it to the party).

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I'm not surprised that these people didn't follow the rules as you laid it out for them. Hundreds more people than agreed to as well. I know you have an official statement to stick to, but I find this whole thing a disgrace. I hope you'll reconsider issuing permits for such events in the future.

-- Jon Merryman

The reply came in from Director Bomar via Sue Masica... look familiar? No doubt Mary asked Sue who asked Rudy who pulled out his template response and it got forwarded down the line. How efficient of them!

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Mr. Merryman:

Director Bomar asked me to respond to your recent inquiry (7/1/07) regarding an event on Alcatraz Island, part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. I am informed that the event was a private event, conducted on June 16, 2007 under the terms of a special use permit. Such events are conducted after hours and are closely monitored by National Park Service staff to ensure compliance with permit conditions designed to prevent damage to park resources and maintain visitor safety.

All special events on Alcatraz Island are required to have an educational component. In the case of the Scion event, event organizers worked with National Park Service and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy interpretation staff to design a program integrating ranger talks with dance performances, ecologically sustainable fashions, and an art gallery featuring original paintings, photographs and sculptures on the themes of Alcatraz and transformation. The art gallery will remain on display for several weeks, offering an enhanced experience of the island for visitors who are interested in art.

The National Park Service issues special use permits for a wide variety of commercial uses, including the filming of television and print advertisements for a variey of products and services. The National Park Service does not use the nationality of the applicant as a basis for granting or denying these permits.

Thank you for your interest and concern about the National Park Service.

___________
Sue Masica
National Park Service
Chief of Staff
phone: 202.208.3818
fax: 202.273.0896

Merryland,
Thanks for posting the letters you've received back from the park service. Pretty interesting that they are nearly word for word identical with each other. I've been thinking about the special use permits that both mention. Specifically, I've been wondering about the distinction between a special use permit for a movie, like The Rock which was filmed on Alcatraz, and the Scion event. Both required the use of extra rangers to keep things in line, and both created profits for their sponsors.

The presence of Alcatraz in the movie may have helped sell tickets, but in my opinion, there was something very different about the Scion event, which was built to sell cars on park land. I may watch The Rock in the theater or on TV, but the Scion event was meant to be experienced in person on public land. As both letters indicate, there was careful consideration given to having an interpretive talk or two, and to have artists provide their own interpretation of life on Alcatraz. But, for anyone who has seen the video, seen the photos, and read the reports in the newspaper, this event was not an artists retreat, it was a giant private party -- designed to sell cars to young folks. I'm still very bugged by this.