Vandals target FOTA project

By Hassan S. Ali

The University Police Department (UCPD), the Chicago Police Department, and the Chicago Fire Department were called on Friday after vandals reportedly poured turpentine onto the “House of Cards” display in the Reynolds Club lobby for the Festival of the Arts (FOTA).

It was the only report of vandalism during FOTA this year, following numerous incidents of damage to FOTA projects last year.

According to a UCPD police report, a man was reportedly seen pouring “some sort of liquid” onto the display around 11:35 p.m. on Friday. He exited the Reynolds Club and got into a waiting car after being approached by a group of students. UCPD officers later spotted a car fitting the report’s description, but they were unable to tie the car’s occupants to the Reynolds Club incident.

While those suspected in the incident were identified as U of C students, their names could not be divulged pending an ongoing investigation.

Tim Banks, associate director of facilities and event services at the Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities (ORCSA), said ORCSA officials were immediately notified about the incident, at which point they called the UCPD. He added that after UCPD officers noted the unknown liquid at the scene, the fire department was called.

“The fire department verified that the substance was turpentine,” Banks said. “We took down the display because we didn’t know what else might be done,” he said, adding that ORCSA officials thought that those responsible for the incident might return and do further damage.

“When I realized what was happening, I was shocked and upset,” said Lana Harfoush, a second-year in the College and creator of the “House of Cards” project targeted in the vandalism. “I didn’t know what would compel someone to do something like this, not only in terms of destroying a fellow student’s work, but with complete disregard for the people inside [the Reynolds Club].”

Harfoush met with administrators Monday regarding the incident, but declined to comment on the specifics of what was discussed.

About five projects were vandalized or stolen during last year’s FOTA. “Interracial Crucifixion,” a large-scale photo by current third-year in the College Sanjaya Punyasena, was stolen from its display in Cobb Hall. Three displays outside Cobb were also vandalized, and UCPD officers spotted a group of about 15 students vandalizing pieces of current third-year David Pickett’s “Lego Play Area.” The administration did not take formal action against the students identified by the UPCD.

Third-year Alta Buden’s “Spirit House” display was also destroyed last year by unknown offenders, and the glass covering two of third-year Emma Bernstein’s “Site-Specific Fashion Photography” pieces was also found broken. Despite the damages done to their 2005 projects, most of the artists took part in FOTA again this year.

But the gravity of Friday’s incident signaled far more serious concerns for FOTA officials.

“Last year there was an incident of vandalism but it was very different,” said Hannah Kushnick, one of FOTA’s senior curators and a third-year in the College, referring to damages done to the “Lego Play Area” display.

“But the potential danger involved [last year] was much less significant,” she said. “A potential fire of that size inside a University building is a safety concern.”

Harfoush echoed Kushnick’s sentiments about the danger of the vandalism.

“The project was primarily cardboard supported by wooden chairs on the inside; it would have gone up in flames instantly, collapsed, and spread,” Harfoush said.

“Members of the University community could have been seriously injured,” she added. “I’m still deeply shocked and distressed. I’m just glad that it was discovered before someone got hurt.”