Artist ordered to replace stolen artwork - KCTV5

Artist ordered to replace stolen artwork

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A local artist is fighting City Hall over a piece of stolen art the city now says he must replace.

Israel Garcia bought a piece of land at 17th Street and Beardsley Road seven years ago. He intended to use the space as a place to feature his pieces and those of his colleagues.

But now he might have to tear it down because of a technicality.

Garcia runs a gallery that specializes in Latin American artwork, and when he found a small patch of land with a dilapidated billboard in 2006, he saw a blank canvas.

"It is an art space, and it is displaying art work. There is no commerciality to that property at all," Garcia said.

But that's not how city officials see it.

The billboard once belonged to a business, and it is still zoned as a commercial structure even though Garcia has used it as an art space for seven years.

"I think it is just one of those things that there are bureaucracies that don't make sense to me," Garcia said.

Last summer, vandals stole several pieces that left the structure vacant, and Garcia didn't know about a new ordinance that penalizes commercial billboard owners for leaving empty signs for more than 90 days.

Garcia couldn't put up new art in time, and now he might have to tear the whole thing down.

"It is my property. It is my structure, and all I ask is just to continue to be able to do what I do," he said.

The art has caught the eye of neighborhood residents like Allan Winkler, who owns several residential properties in the area.

"It is not an eyesore at all. I think it is beautiful, and I enjoy driving past the billboard very much. I'll be sorry if it every goes away," Winkler said.

Garcia says his work meets a public need for art and culture.

"We are a Latin community in town and that matters. And it matters to our local community that we have artwork as well," Garcia said.

He says if he does have to tear down the structure, he will build something else in its place, but he won't call it a billboard.

"Basically, I can reconstruct the same structure, or call it a sculpture, and it could exist," Garcia said.

The city says it cannot comment on an ongoing case, but during Garcia's last appeal in January, the Board of Zoning and Administration expressed their sympathy, but said it did not have the power to give special treatment to the sign.

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