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Published July 13, 2008
byline: Jason Hoppin
section: Local, page B1
St. Paul Pioneer Press

St. Paul
- As tensions between the governments of Iran and the U.S. simmered, one man created an art installation meant to bring the face of average Iranians to the U.S. He planned to show it during the Democratic and Republican national conventions at summer's end.

Now, former Minneapolis attorney Tom Loughlin says he is unhappy with the space St. Paul provided him for the outdoor display and says he may no longer show the exhibit during the Republican National Convention.

Loughlin said he had wanted to make a political point during both conventions that the people of Iran are human, too.

"We have a choice between a guy, (John) McCain, who makes jokes about bombing Iran, and a guy (Barack Obama) who says he'll sit down with anyone," said Loughlin, a former lawyer at Robbins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi who quit his job to follow his passion to Iran, a country he has been fascinated with since he was a boy.

So while people in Denver for the Democratic National Convention will see the 80-foot-long Persian-style tent showing pictures of everyday Iranians photographed during Loughlin's recent visits to Iran, those in St. Paul may miss out.

St. Paul granted Loughlin a permit to place the exhibit, called the Manjurshi Project, in Lower Landing Park near the Lafayette Bridge. But he won't be able to use parking there. And while it's near downtown St. Paul, it would be cut off from Lowertown by Warner Road, where cars zoom by at 50 mph or higher.

In Denver, the exhibit will be on display in the heart of downtown at Civic Center Park.

Loughlin suspects the exhibit would draw strong reactions from a crowd of Republican delegates, especially if tensions between Iran and the current administration escalate. But he stopped short of saying St. Paul discriminated against him because of the content of his exhibit.

"I can't say that," Loughlin said. "All I can say is that we were treated differently in Denver than we were in St. Paul."

Officials in St. Paul deny the Iran theme had anything to do with the park Loughlin was granted or with the time the city took to grant him a permit. Most, if not all, highly sought-after park venues were allocated long before the Manjurshi Project was given Lower Landing Park.

"We're trying to be very content-neutral," said Angela Mens, an events coordinator for the city. "It's more a situation of where can we accommodate something of that scale."

Park space during the RNC was handed out through a lottery. Mens said the city offered the Manjurshi Project alternatives such as Mounds Park, but Loughlin wanted to be downtown. Many downtown spots are not large enough to handle the installation.

Under city rules, Loughlin would be required to provide 24-hour security for the tent. An associate said the group is training staffers to deal with hostile reactions. People would also be invited to submit their reactions, good or bad, to the group's Web site.

Loughlin, who is now based out of Colorado, remains frustrated with St. Paul's application process. He said the donors who support the Manjurshi Project (none of whom, he said, come from the government of Iran) wouldn't be happy if the exhibit were displayed at Lower Landing Park during the RNC.

"My sense is we're probably not going to be in St. Paul because I can't justify spending my donors' money to put it under a bridge," Loughlin said.

Loughlin may bring the installation to St. Paul in the spring instead.




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