boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe

Artist sentenced for secret apartment in R.I. mall

PROVIDENCE - The leader of an artists' cooperative has been sentenced to probation for setting up a secret apartment inside a shopping mall's parking garage as part of a project on mall life.

Michael Townsend, 36, said he and seven other artists built the 750-square-foot apartment beginning in 2003 and lived there for up to three weeks at a time.

The artists built a cinderblock wall and nondescript utility door to keep the loft hidden from the outside world.

But the apartment was fully furnished, down to a hutch filled with china and a Sony PlayStation 2, although a burglar broke in and stole the PlayStation last spring, Townsend said.

There was no running water; instead they used the mall bathrooms.

On his website, Townsend said he was inspired by a Christmastime ad for the mall, which featured a "an enthusiastic female voice talking about how great it would be if you [we] could live at the mall."

He built the dwelling "out of a compassion to understand the mall more and life as a shopper."

Townsend said plans to make the apartment "supersweet" with laminated wood flooring and other perks fell apart last week after he and a visiting artist from Hong Kong walked into the room and were greeted by three security guards.

He pleaded no contest to a trespassing charge.

Dante Bellini Jr., a spokesman for Providence Place Mall, described the living space as little more than "an area with stuff in it."

But Major Stephen Campbell of the Providence Police Department said he and other detectives were so intrigued they visited the apartment to see for themselves.

"I was surprised at what he was able to accomplish," Campbell said. "But what he did was clearly criminal. The mall is private property."

More from Boston.com

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES