Port Angeles police seek leads in arts center vandalism
By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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“All I have is the damage and my plea for help,” said John Nutter, the Port Angeles police officer in charge of the investigation.
“I don't have any evidence to go off at this point.”
Nutter said police have not identified any persons of interest or suspects in the vandalism, which damaged at least 35 art pieces at Webster's Woods, a 5-acre outdoor art park surrounding the fine arts center offices at 1203 E. Lauridsen Blvd.
The art park will be closed indefinitely until the investigation and cleanup are complete, said Robin Anderson, executive director of the fine arts center.
“It's really not safe for kids to go through the park,” Anderson said.
After making a cursory damage assessment Friday morning, Anderson said between 10 and 12 of the older art pieces damaged by vandals will have to be removed because they cannot be repaired.
Nutter said options available to investigators at this point are few, adding that police have started additional patrols in the area in case the vandals come back and try to finish their work.
“There really isn't a whole lot else we can do until we have something to work with,” he said.
Nutter said the patrols started Thursday night after Anderson called 9-1-1 to report five teenagers running and shouting outside her office window at the fine arts center.
Police spoke with the five teens in the arts center parking lot and gathered their contact information, Nutter said, but had no reason to suspect they were involved in the vandalism of the night earlier.
Police presume at least two people vandalized the art pieces Wednesday night based on the weight of some of the sculptures physically torn off their bases and left in the mud.
“But whether that's three, four, five people, I don't know,” Nutter said.
Anderson said the vandals must have known the park pretty well because it was most likely pitch black when they were in the park tipping over pieces and outright smashing others.
Work continues on studying the damage in depth, and Anderson said she is in the process of organizing teams of volunteers that will assess the damage in detail after the first of the year.
“We'll probably get that done after the holiday,” Anderson said.
“We haven't really done in-depth assessments.”
Anderson could not estimate the monetary value of the damaged pieces, adding that a firm number most likely will not be reached until detailed assessments can be done.
Anderson said she also is contacting the artists of the damaged pieces to see if any want to begin repair work, specifically the ones whose works are currently featured in the rotating display near the center of the park.
In the meantime, Anderson said, she wants to recover as best she can before vandals get a chance to come back and damage any more pieces.
This work will include workers from the city, which owns the arts center, who will install barriers at the entry of the park to make clear the park is closed until further notice.
“We're trying to go as quickly as possible,” Anderson said.
Looking toward the future, Anderson said she thinks security cameras and motion detectors might be needed to help monitor the park when it's closed after dark.
Anderson said she has had a great deal of responses from art lovers about the vandalism, all saying what a tragedy it is, with some telling Anderson the damage has made them sick to their stomachs.
The news of the vandalism was met with tears from the children who live next door, Anderson said, and served to show how much the children and their parents loved the art park and the pieces within.
“[The children] want to do anything to help,” Anderson said.
Anderson, who started as executive director of the fine arts center in July, used to work at a larger center in Lakewood and said she noticed the Port Angeles arts center pieces were much more open to the public.
Anderson said she was used to a higher level of security but said she thought Lakewood probably needed it because it's a bigger city than Port Angeles.
“It was different, much more open and relaxed [in Port Angeles],” Anderson said.
Somewhat ironically, Anderson said many of the artists whose work dots the sculpture park, most of it donated, wanted to have their pieces featured at the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center because of how open it is.
“They love the idea [of the park] and how it's accessible to anybody,” Anderson said.
Webster's Woods is known to art lovers across the region and beyond as 5 acres where art and nature intertwine.
Jake Seniuk, then executive director and curator of the arts center, began the transformation of the forest and meadow in 2000.
Every June for the past 12 years, he brought in a fresh crop of artwork from sculptors, painters and ceramists from across the United States and Canada, many of them from Clallam and Jefferson counties.
Seniuk, who worked at the arts center for 23 of its 26 years, stayed to host one more “Art Outside” celebration of new arrivals before retiring in July.
Anyone with information can phone Port Angeles police at 360-452-4545 or North Olympic Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477 with case number 2012-22470.
A reward of up to $1,000 is offered from Crime Stoppers for information that leads to an arrest in the case.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at email@example.com.
Feature Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz contributed to this report.
Last modified: December 22. 2012 5:44PM