It’s been several weeks since seven works of art went missing at Unexpected Art Gallery. So far, there’s been no progress in securing their return.
Unexpected Art reported the art theft to police in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 22. The artwork went missing during an event presented by Team Mansion, says Julie Jennings. She’s the venue director for the gallery and event space, which opened in the Grand Avenue arts and historic district in November 2015.
“We’ve never had anything like this happen before,” Jennings says. She wasn’t there at the time, but another gallery employee was on-site and notified authorities.
She discovered the theft as the event – which included loud music, lasers, and fog effects amid darkness – was coming to a close. Billed as a house party, the event ran from 10 p.m. on Saturday, July 21, until 2 a.m. the next day.
“When the lights went back on, she saw screws in certain areas with no art on the wall,” Jennings says. So, the employee called the police.
After that, things got more complicated.
While police were taking a report at Unexpected Art, a car crashed through a fence across the street and sped away, Jennings says.
The fence is located at an American Legion post where Unexpected Art patrons sometimes park. The lot was closed for the night, but that didn’t stop the car in question from leaving.
Unexpected Art identified the car as a Honda sedan in a press release issued on Friday, August 11. The release contains other details as well, and states that “police believe the two incidents are related.”
Artists weren’t immediately notified their works had gone missing. “We hoped to track the art down first,” Jennings says.
But that didn’t happen, and Jennings says they were notified on Friday, July 27. That’s the day artists were scheduled to get their work from the gallery.
“The day of pickup I went to get my work, and Julie advised me of what happened,” says an artist who goes by TK. “It’s disappointing that someone would take art from hardworking artists,” he says.
Other artists whose work was stolen include Peter Burt, Karen Gardner, Emmett Graham, Martin Mata, Audra McGrew, and Tim Soule.
“It was my first gallery show,” McGrew says. “I really didn’t know what to feel when I found out.” Her stolen piece, which features a prominent red rose, was actually painted for another exhibit set to open in early September at another art space.
“I can’t believe the audacity,” McGrew says. “I don’t know who would do something like this.”
In total, the stolen artwork was worth about $4,000, Jennings says.
Unexpected Art launched a GoFundMe crowd-sourcing campaign on August 11, asking for $10,000 in donations to cover the cost of artwork, plus fence repairs at the American Legion post. As of Wednesday night, August 15, three people had donated a total of $80.
The gallery is also offering a $500 reward, and Jennings says they'll take a "no questions asked, no repercussions" approach for anyone who returns the artwork intact.
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Meanwhile, they’re exploring ways to prevent something similar from happening down the road.
“We’ve got to do a better job with security, and vet our events more effectively,” Jennings says. “We’ve beefed up security inside and outside, including the main gallery.”
Now, the focus is on spreading the word, in the hopes it will help catch the culprit.
“We will stand by our artists,” Jennings says. “We would never leave them in a lurch.”