A spate of vandalism against the current installment of State Street’s public art program is bringing local relevance to a famous quote from writer Ray Bradbury: “Those who don’t build must burn. It’s as old as history and juvenile delinquence.”
Since the eight temporary exhibits of the so-named State of the Art Gallery sprung up on downtown State Street in early August, three have been vandalized.
One — a 65-inch-tall vessel made of bronze rods — was damaged twice, on the first two consecutive nights of the program, which began Aug. 8. The first time, a person or group had broken the piece from its weld, and the second time they smashed in all the rods. It since has been removed.
Another, a sculpture made of organic decay near Starbucks on Victoria, had a piece of driftwood yanked from it on the program’s first night. The driftwood was replaced.
The third occurred early Wednesday, when a scofflaw cracked open one of the transparent plastic windows of a rectangular 10-foot-tall structure crammed with stuffed animals and made off with some of the furries. That portion of the piece has been patched with duct tape. Officials speculate that the lawbreaker used a skateboard.
None of the vandals has been caught. (Click here to see and read about all eight exhibits.)
Rita Ferri, the visual arts coordinator of the program, said the State of the Art project has witnessed vandalism before, but not like this year.
“I think it’s just a sign of our times,” she said. “We have a lot of people out on the street at night.”
She added: “It’s really hard to understand something that’s senseless. A woman asked me, ‘Why would people do this?’ My answer is: The kind of people who do this don’t need a why.”
The State of the Art Gallery began in the mid- to late 1990s and is funded mostly by the city’s redevelopment taxes. The gallery, which occurs every other year, receives about $37,000 from the city during the years in which it is installed. It also raises money from private donors; this year, it raised about $24,000, Ferri said. Each of the artists is paid $1,500. This year, they are all from the South Coast.
The city money comes not from the general fund, but from the city’s redevelopment program. By state law, areas zoned for redevelopment either are or have once been in need of sprucing up. When the downtown area was designated as a redevelopment zone 30 years ago, it fell into this category, Santa Barbara Councilwoman Helene Schneider said.
”(The money) goes back into the redevelopment agency to remove blight,” she said. “That’s how Paseo Nuevo (mall) was financed.”
In redevelopment areas, a cap is placed on the amount of property taxes generated within the designated area that can be spent on general-fund expenditures such as police and fire. As property values — and therefore tax proceeds — increase, the amount generated over and above the cap must be used for the betterment of the redevelopment zone, and can only be spent on capital costs such as construction and design. In the mid- to late 1990s, the City Council decided to use some of the money for the State of the Art Gallery, which has seen five installments.
The redevelopment arrangement for the downtown zone will sunset in 2013.
Schneider said the purpose of the program is to promote a dialogue about art, and to highlight the artistic tradition that has helped make Santa Barbara a special place.
“It’s such a core part of why people love Santa Barbara; it’s not a typical town,” she said.
Meanwhile, the recent vandalism also has sparked some contemplative dialogue — from the artists.
Rafael Perea de la Cabada is one of two artists who worked on the large rectangle containing the stuffed animals. Called “Persistence of the Unnecessary,” the towering piece made of steel, wood and transparent plastic required the work of a construction crane to install, and is meant to partially resemble some of the storefronts on State Street.
On Wednesday evening, Cabada, an art instructor at Santa Barbara City College, was at the exhibit, applying duct tape to the broken window.
“What’s sad about it is that Plexiglas is very, very thick,” he said, referring to the transparent plastic material that is a registered trademark of Arkema Group. “You really had to want to break it.”
Cabada, who with co-creator Matthew Woodford paid out of pocket for the $6,000 cost of his piece’s materials, said the vandalism made him angry, but it also spurred him to reflect.
“Everything has a teaching moment,” he said. “When things like this happen, I always wonder who did it, and what kind of stereotypes come to mind. Was it a skateboarder, a gang member, a homeless drunk? It reveals our thinking about who we think is damaging to society.”
Cabada said they might try to repair the piece of artwork, which, along with the others, will be on State Street through Nov. 15.
Another artist whose work was damaged was less upset, but no less philosophical.
Bill Malis, a La Conchita resident, created the piece made partly of driftwood. Called “Enshrined Detritus,” the artwork resembles a Japanese character or symbol, and is made largely of the organic decay from the beach near La Conchita.
As an artist whose raw materials come mostly from Mother Nature, Malis said he is accustomed to taking unexpected change as it comes.
“I repaired it, and I really kind of like it better,” he said.
Malis, who spent about $700 on his materials, said the vandalism is simply part of the piece’s “continued history.”
“Maybe it was an educated removal of the piece,” he joked. “It’s done. It shouldn’t happen, but since it did, I’m going to live with it.”
He added: “The nature of things is to self-destruct with time. Even world-class paintings that are 500 years old are not what they were 500 years ago. … As for art, once it’s created, it’s in the process of dying. Just as when you’re born, you’re pre-dead. It can happen in a minute, or it can happen in 110 years. You never know when it’s going to happen, and that’s probably a good thing.”
The piece that had to be removed was called “The Birth of Bacchus,” and was created by Ed Inks, an SBCC professor of sculpture.
People can meet the artists from 5 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 2, when they will be stationed near their pieces.
Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at email@example.com.