A! Magazine for the Arts

Carl Clarke, a columnist for the <em>Washington County News</em>, proposes a  Tri-Cities Art Theft Task Force.

Carl Clarke, a columnist for the Washington County News, proposes a Tri-Cities Art Theft Task Force.

Art Thefts Must Be Stopped

July 14, 2009

On June 22, 2009, two of 27 painted wolf statues were stolen off the streets of Abingdon. The day before, three bronze caterpillars, part of a Caterpillar Crawl program that encourages children to read, were robbed from State Street in Bristol.

Either these are teenage pranks, or the Tri-Cities has been targeted by a gang of international art thieves. Whichever, it must be stopped. And it will be if I have my way. I am writing a grant proposal to the Federal Crime Prevention Agency. Here's what will happen if it is funded.

Tri-Cities Art Theft Task Force, made up of the chiefs of police of every city and town in the region. Meeting weekly, they will pool their knowledge and resources, and use their networks of informants, to bring art thieves to justice.

Hot Line to the National Art Theft Data Base. Within minutes of a report, the theft will be entered into this massive data base, triggering a Burnt Umber Alert. Every art dealer, gallery, and collector in New York, London, Rome, Florence, Moscow and Taos, NM will be watching for the items. The perpetrators won't be able to fence them. Best to return the items to the local public library, which is what the wolf statue thieves did.

The Tri-Cities Art Inventory. Every piece of fine art in the Tri-Cities will be entered into this regional data base, whether it be in a home, a gallery, a museum, or on loan to a group like Art in Public Places. That way, when a theft takes place, investigating officers won't have to fumble with a description. The data base will instantly offer: "a 3' x 5' oil on canvas showing a Rubenesque nude lounging by a waterfall. Rich in hues of cerulean blue and mauve."

Specially trained art SWAT team. I cannot wait for the look of surprise when my SWAT team breaks into a fraternity or sorority house at ETSU and catches the perps red-handed drinking beer out of a stolen bronze fountain. I just hope I get to be there and shout, "Freeze! Everybody down on the floor! Now!"

New laws. I will ask federal and state legislators to co-sponsor bills making art theft a "particularly aggravated crime" and increasing fines and jail time. I'd like to see art thieves do 20 years of hard time in a maximum security Federal prison. That'll make others think twice about stealing our art for the international black market.

Severe penalties for repeat offenders. Art thieves convicted three times will be drawn and quartered. The catchy warning slogan will be, "Steal Art, Come Apart."

Our local artists put their time, hearts and souls into creating beauty for us to enjoy. Tell your senator and congressman to support my grant application.

Carl D. Clarke, Jr. from Abingdon, Va., is a weekly columnist for the Washington County News. He is a member of the Arts Alliance Mountain Empire board of directors and AAME's A! Magazine for the Arts committee. He may be reached at carlclarke@embarqmail.com.