Robert Gentile and Stephen Bunyard had work stolen from the Phoenix Festival of the Arts, says Lauren Henschen, deputy director for Phoenix Center for the Arts and coordinator for this year’s event.
The festival, presented by Phoenix Center for the Arts, took place December 9 to 11 at Margaret T. Hance Park. Dozens of artists showed and sold their work during the festival, and 31 artists participated in a mural project organized by Phoenix artist Hugo Medina. Rather than typical murals painted on walls, the works are paintings on 4-by-4-foot wooden panels, valued by Phoenix Center for the Arts at $300.
Bunyard and Gentile discovered artwork was missing when they arrived on Sunday morning, the last day of the event. A total of four works were stolen, Henschen says. One was a mural by Gentile, who co-founded Grand ArtHaus with Laura Dragon and Michael Viglietta earlier this year. The other three stolen works were photographs taken by Bunyard, who says he spent more than $200 having them printed on aluminum and priced them for $375 total.
Theft involving artwork is particularly sad, Henschen says. “Art is so personal, and artists really put themselves into their work."
“This is the first time we’ve had a mural stolen,” Medina says. He's been organizing the mural project for several years.
The stolen works were located near the festival’s entrance and exit off Moreland Street just west of Third Street. Gentile’s mural was sitting on an easel, and Bunyard’s photographs were situated inside a tented booth, where he was also showing ceramic works.
Henschen isn’t sure how the thefts transpired.
“Steve’s booth was completely closed, the grounds were locked, and we had security in place,” Henschen says. Bunyard noticed his missing items first, she says, and Gentile noticed his mural was gone when he arrived to set up about two hours later.
"Stuff like this is going to happen," Bunyard says. "I don't hold out much hope of getting my work back."
The park isn't fenced, so it's accessible to the public at all hours. But the festival was surrounded by a chain link fence with locks on access points. Artists use tented booths with four sides that can be sealed when not in use. Some artists leave items overnight, but others take at least some of their inventory with them when they leave for the day, festival exhibitor Ingrid Donaldson says.
A police report has been filed, Henschen says.
Murals painted during the festival are sold for $300, with 60 percent of proceeds going to the artists and 40 percent going to Phoenix Center for the Arts, Medina says. But Gentile, whose work depicted a man sitting on a park bench feeding pigeons, says it's not about the money. "It's just a painting," Gentile says.
Medina alerted participating artists by e-mail to a GoFundMe campaign for Harmony Mosier, a Phoenix 7-year-old with a rare form of cancer, and encouraged them to consider donating at least part of their cut to the cause.
“I can always make more art, but funds from the mural were supposed to go to Harmony,” Gentile told New Times on Sunday, referencing author Paul Mosier and jewelry artist Keri Mosier's daughter. The Mosiers are well known in the local arts scene.
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Gentile reacted by posting a picture of his mural taken on Saturday — and a scathing indictment of the people who stole it — on his Instagram account (@rgentileartist) Sunday morning. Here’s what he wrote:
Ok...sooo this piece was stolen last night from Hance Park. I was going to donate the proceeds to this little girl Harmony (family friend of Hugo Medina) to help with her medical bills, but some useless waste of life stole it.
If you see this piece hanging in your boys place...punch him in the fucking face.
Please share this
On Sunday, Gentile was back at his easel in the park with a fresh wood panel, creating an homage to the world of Star Wars. Since then, he says, he's been inundated with support, and total strangers have told him through social media that they plan to donate money to help Harmony.
"With everything that this has sparked, there's a real possibility we'll raise more money than just the mural would have raised," Gentile says. "Everything happens for a reason."