October 28, 2020

Back to Our Roots exhibit broken into and vandalized

Vandalizers broke into the Back to our Roots Exhibition only two days after it opened. Leaders are using the theme of the gallery to help them reconcile with the break-in. 

Two days after its opening, unknown vandalizers broke into and trashed the student-run Back to Our Roots exhibition on Feb. 23.

Leaders behind the gallery say this won’t stop the exhibition’s mission.

“It was unfortunate, but we’re staying positive,” Sophia Coon said, Back to Our Roots’ co-curator and director. “We’re just trying to stay with the theme of the show of reconciling with the past and moving on.”

Police are still searching for the person or persons who broke into the gallery, according to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police’s incident report. No art was stolen from the gallery at Webster’s Gateway Campus, but two artworks were damaged. Wine and beer bottles were broken and spread throughout the gallery. Tables and carts were moved around the space.

Art history professor Ryan Gregg speculated the vandal(s) got interrupted. A TV was taken off a wall but not stolen. The police do not know how the burglars got into the gallery. No doors or windows were broken, according to the police’s report.

Back to Our Roots opened again for a small exhibition Feb. 28. Francesca Passanise, the Arcade Contemporary Art Projects Gallery coordinator, attributed the gallery’s quick comeback to Webster’s dedicated staff and students.

“We’re definitely moving forward,” Passanise said. “If anything, we’re using it to say, ‘No, this is why we’re here and this is why we need to have an even stronger presence moving forward.”

Back to Our Roots opened to the public Feb. 21 at Webster’s gateway campus downtown. According to Coon, the show looked for themes of gratitude— being thankful for one’s past and recognizing how it got the artists to where they are today.

Coon said the gallery succeeded in its goal to bring a diverse group of people together. Students from a variety of majors submitted art to Back to Our Roots. On opening night Feb. 21, people packed into the Arcade gallery’s space.

“We are super grateful for a successful opening reception,” Coon said. “ I couldn’t have asked for a better night.”

Gregg said news of the break-in came as a shock. He saw how much work the students poured into the gallery all year. He said telling them about what happened was very difficult.

“I was really heartbroken,” Gregg said. “To have this happen to an exhibition that was directly about creating and supporting community to then be so wantonly attacked was really disheartening.”

The exhibition showcased 23 juried works. Artists’ pieces spanned portrait paintings to a track athlete’s demonstrative dancing.

Back to Our Roots was junior Wrenn Voigt’s first gallery show. He showcased his piece, “Unknown Scars” that he made in a papermaking class. The piece was one of the artworks that got damaged during the break-in. Voigt hasn’t gone back to the gallery since opening night.

“I haven’t seen my piece, but I’m guessing it’s no longer ‘unseen’ scars,” Voigt said.

Voigt said he felt surprised when he got an email saying his work was damaged. In a way, he thought the damage was ironic considering the theme of the show.

“It’s about dealing with your past and moving on,” Voigt said. “I think it would be completely against what the show was all about to sit here and reflect. It happened. Life goes on.”

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