Bangert: Doofuses, Drunks and Bears, Oh My
Journal & Courier, May 12, 2015
By Dave Bangert
Another community art project, another round of vandalism to kick it off.
Here's one takeaway from the smattering of vandalism serving as a preview to this summer's "Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!" public art display.
Posting signs telling the viewing public, "Warning: Security Cameras In Use," isn't necessarily enough to stop someone from tearing off bits and pieces from a fiberglass bear decorated for the community art project.
At least it wasn't for "Everybody Rides," Steve Vaughan's automotive-themed bear that went up a week ago near Main and Seventh streets in downtown Lafayette. Vaughan took a call over the weekend from police that the bear's nose — a retrofitted air cleaner — and an exhaust pipe tip fashioned to stick out of the statue's back were broken off and taken.
And the security camera Vaughan had to capture it all?
"Missed it. They were out of the frame, unfortunately," Vaughan said, groaning at his aim as much as his luck with his contribution to the summerlong exhibit. "Everybody Rides" is one of three bears damaged in the past week.
"I have to say, I kind of expected it, to a degree. I don't think it was a criminal mastermind that pulled this off," Vaughan said. "Late at night, when people aren't thinking too straight, that's my most likely candidate. Inebriated and bored is a pretty bad combination for street art."
Here's another takeaway as the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette prepares for Friday's official grand opening for the 37 bears, two lions and one tiger.
Apparently, after years of putting out collections of temporary, all-for-fun/fun-for-all art pieces in Lafayette and West Lafayette, these displays still need soft openings so the doofuses, derelicts and drunks can get the vandalism out of their system.
Come on. Does it really have to be that way?
There has to be an assumption of community trust with any public art project — the sort that goes beyond the plea engraved at the feet of every lion, tiger and bear on Main Street: "Please appreciate and treat with kindness so all may enjoy."
But Vaughan's expectation of the inevitable is answer enough.
Based on experiences with similar projects — the art museum has trotted out hogs, frogs and dogs in the past, each time going through bouts of vandalism or straight-up theft — Vaughan said he "tried to build in a certain tolerance" so the decorations would snap off and not damage the fiberglass base of "Everybody Rides."
"Because I did have objects that might be eye candy to a vandal," Vaughan said. "It worked. They did break away."
Other add-ons to the bears have walked off in the past week, too. A suitcase disappeared from Ashley Phillips' "Leisure Larry" in front of Red Seven restaurant at Main and Second streets. A gear crafted and embedded in "The Bear Mechanics," a steam punk-inspired design by Sara Furbush and Morgan Asay, was dug out from the piece at the Margerum Fountain in West Lafayette.
Artists and those in the community beautification business keep coming up with various strategies to defend these projects and other features deemed precious.
Stacy Bogan, who created "Monarch Bear," stationed outside Lafayette Brewing Company on Main Street, said she stuck to a paint job and skipped adding elements she thought would be vulnerable. The only maintenance so far: wiping off dirt left when little kids climbed on the piece.
"Which isn't a huge deal," Bogan said. "I'm a bit charmed by that."
Last summer, the Tippecanoe Music Teachers Association relied on tarps for pop-up thunderstorms and crossed fingers for everything else when members put six decorated pianos on downtown and West Lafayette sidewalks for a month. "Pianos for the Street" proved to be another reason to love being downtown last summer, with practice studio workouts floating out of various directions on Main Street. Sweeter still, reports of vandalism didn't follow.
If you go
The grand opening of the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette's "Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!" will be 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at Bison Financial Center, Ninth and Main streets.
Here's "Everybody Rides" Steve Vaughan's piece for "Lions and Tigers and BEARS oh my!" before it was vandalized. (Photo: Domenica Bongiovanni/Journal & Courier)