A lion and two crocodiles went missing May 1.
Luckily the disappearance wasn’t dangerous — they were sculptures — but it’s disturbing for a different reason: The animals are part of a Clark County art project, and it’s not the first time public art has been vandalized.
Recently, utility boxes painted by local artists were defaced, as was a mural in the Cultural Corridor.
The golden lion sculpture and pink crocodiles, called “Night Eyes” by artist Chris Bauder, were stolen from a traffic median at Flamingo and Decatur.
Luckily, the lion was found and turned into the police, but it raises the question: Does Las Vegas have a problem respecting public art?
"This is not unique to Vegas," said Clark County art specialist Michael Ogilvie. "It is just unique to the human race."
Ogilvie said vandalism and theft are part of the equation when it comes to public art anywhere. He said the best they can do is put in as many preventative measures as possible.
"Night Eyes" is part of the Public Art Fund Project, which is tasked with beautifying the community, bringing people together, giving work to local artists and fixing problems.
Ogilvie said one problem they fixed was a long and daunting corridor at Child Haven, the county's shelter for foster children. The staff suggested the corridor could be intimidating for children who are already in a vulnerable situation, so the fund paid artist Sush Machida to paint murals along the corridor.
Another problem they're fixing are the seemingly endless concrete medians.
"The 'Centered' project aims to enhance and beautify medians throughout the county," Ogilvie said. "We have these concrete, these blank slabs, throughout the county that could use a little aesthetic improvement."
"Night Eyes" was part of that effort.
Besides vandalism and theft, it seems that public art also comes with complaints about it being a waste of taxpayer money. Ogilvie was quick to dismiss that criticism. The money comes from room taxes, which are paid by tourists.
Ogilvie said art can be seen as a necessity like police, fire, sewer and clean water.
"You have a right to those things, but you also have a right to beauty," he said. "You have a right not to have to stare at a sidewalk or a brick wall."
Metro Police are searching for the person or persons who took the sculpture. If caught, they could face felony larceny charges. They're hoping that someone in one of the nearby businesses saw something.
"When the piece went in, I was really surprised at the social media response," Ogilvie said. "There was a huge outpouring of commentary on the works of art. I think that possible became a catalyst for why they became a target."
Michael Ogilvie, art specialist, Clark County
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