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Arts council may take lead in response to vandalized art

Profile image for Lucinda Breeding
Lucinda Breeding

On her third day on the job, the new executive director of the Greater Denton Arts Council suggested that a vandalized work of public art might be displayed in the city's art center. 

Georgina Ngozi, the council's new director, attended her first meeting of the Denton Public Art Committee on Thursday. The committee had a heavy agenda, and discussing the fate of a destroyed glass sculpture of Denton blues icon Tom "Pops" Carter, was at the top.

The Greater Denton Arts Council has hired Georgina Ngozi as its new executive director.Greater Denton Arts Council
The Greater Denton Arts Council has hired Georgina Ngozi as its new executive director.
Greater Denton Arts Council

"I'm wondering if we've considered not just moving the piece indoors, but [having it] repaired enough so that its intended purpose in viewing it [is preserved] and then adding to it an element — which is in the minutes of this material — that serves an impetus for a conversation around all that it's represented and all that transpired," Ngozi said.  "I think it could make a very important statement."

Ngozi suggested the arts council leadership discuss putting the bludgeoned art in the Patterson-Appleton Arts Center, where it could be on permanent display and provoke conversation. The arts council is a nonprofit organization that supports artists and arts nonprofits with annual grants, operates two public galleries and offers affordable arts programming to all ages in Denton County.

On Friday, Ngozi said she and Linda Eaddy, the council's board president, will discuss the idea with the remainder of the board at its next meeting. 

"What I can say is that we will seek a spot for it be to placed where it can be seen in the arts center," Ngozi said. "It seems like a reasonable direction for us to take. And since it is such a popular piece, it will still be available for the community. For everyone in the community."

Sometime around Sept. 13,  a vandal took a blunt object — like a baseball bat or a brick — and pounded on the stained-glass sculpture until the bullet-resistant polycarbonate sheet protecting it flexed, and the safety glass and stained glass shattered. Within 24 hours, the city had removed the sculpture from its place in Quakertown Park.

The work was installed inside 3/8-inch bullet-resistant Lexan before being set in Quakertown Park in 2014. The city's public art committee commissioned the work to honor Carter, who died in 2012.

Pops Carter lived in Denton for decades, and when he wasn't performing in local clubs, he was a patron in them — flirting with the women and telling stories to the men. He performed with other well-known blues musicians: Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Lightnin' Hopkins, B.B. King and Little Milton. He formed his band, Pops Carter and the Funkmonsters, in the mid-1980s. He and the band became an anchor act at the Denton Blues Festival. This year's blues festival happened the weekend following the vandalism.

The public art committee confirmed that, though the sculpture can't be repaired to its original condition, the image of the late musician is still visible within the web of shattered safety glass.

"You can still tell it's Pops," said Christie A. Wood, the Denton glass artist who designed and created the sculpture.  Wood said she's thought of the destroyed artwork daily since it was vandalized. She and a few other residents set candles out by the sculpture the evening of Sept. 13. That was the day Wood found out about the destruction. Her mother had apologized to her about it over breakfast, thinking Wood had already been notified that someone had smashed up the sculpture.

The sculpture had been vandalized before — just three days after it was dedicated. 

Wood wasn't able to attend the Thursday evening meeting, and learned Friday that the art committee and arts council pledged to explore exhibiting the sculpture — new scars and all — in the arts center.

"That’s wonderful that they're talking about putting it in the center," Wood said. "I'm so glad they want to keep it and put it indoors. It was the only idea I could think of. I don’t have any idea where it should go, but shoot, it really shouldn’t be outdoors anymore."

In a statement she'd submitted to the committee for the meeting, Wood said she thought keeping the shattered sculpture could be fruitful. 

"I wanted it to be a teaching moment," she said. "I really wanted people to learn something, and talk about racism in the community."

Wood and others posted about the vandalism on social media, and commented on the possibility that the sculpture had been targeted because of Pops Carter's status as a prominent black artist in Denton. The vandalism occurred as local residents continued to protest the Confederate veterans memorial on the downtown Denton Square, and press for the Denton County Commissioners Court to remove it from the courthouse lawn. 

After the Pops Carter sculpture was ruined, some people took to social media to urge the city to place it on the downtown Square, as if to stand as a silent witness to the legacy of Confederate-era white supremacy. 

The public art committee tabled action on the sculpture to give Ngozi time to discuss moving the sculpture into the arts center. 

Committee member Millie Giles said the committee should replace the sculpture with a new work. 

"I think we should recommission the piece," Giles told the committee. "And I'd like to see the original connected to the new commission in some way. I think that's an important part of this."

Giles suggested that a recommissioned work could be exhibited  with the destroyed original. 

Wood said she can create a new piece. The original was commissioned for $28,000. Wood said a city official told her it could commission a new piece for $29,000, to adjust for inflation. 

"I would want to make it better, using a better Lexan, but for the same price," Wood said. "I'd want to make it stronger."

Wood said most of the feedback she's gotten on social media has been overwhelmingly positive. 

"People said that they want the sculpture back out there. They wanted it to be a teaching moment, and that the vandalism was a blot on the city’s public face," she said. "I did get some negative feedback, but not about Pops. The negative feedback was  about using glass. But I did my due diligence. I used Lexan. It was rated outdoor-worthy. You can’t plan for every contingency. You can't plan for every act of malice."

Denton residents donated have money to the Denton Parks Foundation to repair or replace the sculpture. The official amount collected wasn't available Friday, but Janie McLeod, the city's liaison to the public art committee, told committee members the funds were "in hand" for the group to use.