Bears' vandalism shows best, worst of community

Domenica Bongiovanni, May 22, 2015

Covering vandalized bears wasn't something I expected when I came here as the arts reporter, but I've learned how well a community can take it in stride and rise above.

Since the beginning of May, I feel like I've been on the bear beat.

Actually, let's start even before then. Let's rewind to January, right after I accepted a job offer at the Journal & Courier. To prepare for my arrival, I was researching the town's art and culture when I came across the adorable photos of "Bearnard" and "Patches," ambassadors for the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette's "Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!" public art exhibit.

Memories of posing with cows in my hometown of Kansas City and sidling up next to gigantic guitars in Austin filled my brain. This time, I thought, I get to do more. I get to tell stories about pieces of art that affect every single person who goes into the heart of Greater Lafayette.

So back to May. First, I attended the opening reception for the exhibit. I eagerly snapped photos of the critters and mingled with their artists. An excited buzz permeated the room. People oohed and ahhed over the bears, delighted that they would soon join the city's rhythm.

The warm glow lasted until a few days after the installation. That's when it was discovered that "The Bear Mechanics" had been vandalized. Three more incidents cropped up after that. Especially heartbreaking was when people took the bandage and cards off of "Motley Pooh."

Those weren't stories I thought I'd have to tell. Asking artists how they felt about seeing their work — what they'd poured their hearts and tightly squeezed time into — purposefully damaged wasn't easy for someone who adores art.

But what I realized was this: Just as art isn't always beautiful, neither are the stories about it. If what we create reflects where we live, then maddening elements of society will inevitably tag along.

The vandalized bears' artists already knew that. They dealt with disappointment, they told me, but quickly worked through it to find a solution and restore the statues. Our conversations turned from planned repairs to the creators' delight at the children scaling the animals and others petting them.

The takeaway, of course, is simply to move on and focus on the positives. And that's the common thread that has emerged from the vandalism stories. Damaged art might not be what I anticipated reporting on, but it showed me how the best of a community can take troubles in stride and gracefully rise above them.