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Report: $250k in public art missing, stolen

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Posted at 6:08 PM, Mar 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-09 07:34:45-05

The Baltimore Inspector General recently released a report on dozens of pieces of art that have disappeared over time from the doorsteps of Baltimore City Schools.

More than 200 works of art were commissioned for public schools starting in the 60s, but now the city is finding out that 68 of them are either missing or unaccounted for. Twelve pieces of art, primarily sculptures, cost in excess of $250,000.

“The Guide,” a 15-foot sculpture, valued at $23,000, and “Citisphere,” valued at $8,000, were both commissioned in 1977 as part of the renovation at Baltimore City College High School, both among the works of art missing.

“Forty-six pieces have been missing and another 22 are still unknown as to whether they're missing or in storage somewhere. They haven't been located but we're not certain at this point that they've been stolen,” said Baltimore City Inspector General Robert Pearre, Jr.

According to the report, “Discussions with school personnel about the two sculptures indicated that it was unclear: (1) when the sculptures were actually noticed as missing, (2) what actually happened to the sculptures, (3) who the sculptures belonged to, or (4) who was responsible for the sculpture’s maintenance and preservation. For example, a senior administrator at the school since 2010 stated that they had never seen either of the sculptures.”

"Some we believe went missing and were probably stolen, possible scrapped, so it's a mixtures of stories as to what happened," Pearre said.

All of the art was commissioned for Baltimore City Schools as part of the 1-Percent-for-Public-Art Ordinance, a mandate that took effect in 1964 and designated 1 percent of every city construction budget to artwork.

“They were building new schools at the time, this was in the '70s and the '80s, before the schools were separated as a city agency, and so there was a lot of artwork that was produced, well over 200 pieces to grace the schools around the city,” said Randi Vega, cultural affairs director for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts (BOPA).

Pearre said his office learned that some of the pieces had gone missing 15 to 20 years ago and his office was looking into how that could have happened and how no one was made aware.

“We're responsible for promoting accountability and efficiency in the government and some of these pieces of art were valuable,” Pearre said.

He cited a lack of asset management and provided recommendations on better management in the future. One of the recommendations was a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between BOPA and the Baltimore City School System.

“We want to make sure none of this happens again and that there is accountability and there are folks whose eyes are on this work and they're identifying and taking care of any issues that might develop with the work,” Vega said.

Other recommendations include implementing a maintenance and conservation program and assessing the artwork on a yearly basis.

“The principal will kind of be the watchdog making sure that the work is in tact and is in good condition and will inform us if there's a problem with it,” Vega said.

BOPA plans to reach out to the schools superintendent in the next month to begin drafting the MOU. They also plan to install plaques on every piece of art still in existence that will tell anyone considering moving them to inform BOPA first.

The inspector general also said the Baltimore Police Department was initially involved in the search for some of the expensive pieces that went missing, but he said that the trail had gone too cold for investigators to develop any leads.

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