Vandalism hits Festival of the Arts ’05

By Tisse Takagi

While last week’s Festival of the Arts (FOTA) proved greatly successful, being both more ambitious and popular than it was last year, it has incurred its share of misfortunes, in the form of vandalized art.

A number of artworks exhibited on campus for FOTA were defaced and stolen during the course of the week, both indoor and outdoor installations. Sanjaya Punyasena’s piece, “Interracial Crucifixion,” a large-scale photo displayed on the first floor of Cobb Hall in his collection of erotic photography, was stolen between 10 p.m. Tuesday evening and 3:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. His collection was later relocated to Uncle Joe’s.

Two and a half days later, on Friday evening, three displays by the C-bench outside of Cobb were vandalized during Summer Breeze festivities. According to Officer Rudy Nimocks, UCPD officers found a group of about 15 students stomping on and tossing about pieces of David Pickett’s “Lego Play Area.” No formal action was taken, but the Dean’s office was called, and contact cards were made for the students.

Claire Mazur, executive director of FOTA, said she spoke with several members of the Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji) fraternity, who said that some of their pledges had been caught by the police while tampering with the lego display oustide Cobb. However, Rob Tamillow, president of Fiji, said that his fraternity brothers were innocent of any vandalism. He said the legos had already been destroyed when the fraternity staged a scavenger hunt around the “C” bench, where the legos were displayed. Tamillow maintained that the pledges were trying to avoid stepping on the legos.

One of Alta Buden’s “Spirit Houses,” and some of Emma Bernstein’s “Site-Specific Fashion Photography” were also affected Friday night, though it is unclear who perpetrated the offense. Buden’s spirit house was demolished, leaving behind merely a pole upon which it had been perched. The glass on two of Bernstein’s photos was broken, despite being half-hidden in the bushes behind the bench.

Kristine Khouri, one of the co-curators for FOTA 2005, was adamant about not letting the recent incidents set FOTA back for next year. She contrasted the vandalism with the generally enthusiastic reaction she has received from people on campus.

Khouri expressed concern, however, for the more practical aspects involved with holding FOTA next year, and more specifically the issue of getting funding. She said that organizers would make an effort to convince the University that the event is worth having in the future despite this year’s vandalism.

The incident does not seem to have fazed Punyasena, a second-year in the College, who plans on participating in FOTA 2006, despite the risk of having his art taken again.

“I thought this was an amazing thing,” he said, of the FOTA experience as a whole. “I’ve got so many ideas for next year, and I obviously want to pursue them.” Pusayena does not plan to change the way he displays his art, rejecting constraints on his artistic freedom. “It would be a shame if I limited myself just because of [the incident]. I may be slightly more cautious, but at the same time, if I were more cautious I would feel limited in what I could do.”

Sharlene Holly, the director of the Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities (ORCSA), in concordance with Punyasena, cited the freedom with which art is exhibited during FOTA as being one of its most important factors.

“One of the nice things about FOTA is that it’s all around you,” she said. “Because of that the artwork is not in secure locations the question is whether to have secure and locked locations, or a risk of vandalism.”

Speaking for ORCSA, she affirmed that FOTA would continue to be an integral part of spring quarter activities. “There have been a number of incidents involving FOTA exhibits in the past,” Holly said, and explained that they have and will continue to hold it nonetheless.

“We want everyone to coexist and have respect for one another,” she said. “An important thing is to try to get the students who did destroy the artwork to understand that it’s not just in fun, if someone else is being negatively impacted.”