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Grand Theft Artwork

Canvas: Around $10. Art Supplies: Around $30. The value of your painting that was stolen: Priceless.

Four student paintings were stolen off the wall in Jenkins Hall, according to a police report filed with TJC campus safety by art instructor Barbara Holland on Oct. 7.

Two of the stolen paintings were found on the lawn outside of Jenkins Hall on Oct. 7. The two paintings were recovered by Derrick White, art instructor at TJC. The paintings belonged to TJC student Melissa Swofford and were taken off the wall near the art department in Jenkins. In addition to the two paintings that were recovered, two more students’ paintings were taken, but havenot been recovered. The missing artwork belongs to art students Angelica Sells and Joseph French.

The opportunity for the artists to display their work outside in the hallway is something the artists eagerly anticipated. However, after the paintings were discovered missing, the art students were advised to remove their paintings from the walls, which art professors and students say is one of the worst parts about the theft.

“It’s not really art unless there’s somebody to look at it,” said Chris Stewart, art department chair.

Although displaying their artwork is not a requirement, the students look forward to receiving feedback from fellow TJC students. Next to each piece of art is a comment sheet that encourages students to write “constructive” criticism and/or compliments.

Recently, the students and teachers noticed that the comment sheets were not being used in the way they were intended. The sheets were intended to be an “outlet for students.” However, the comment sheets were not being used to write constructive criticism, and some of the comments had nothing to do with the paintings at all.

“You can’t force people to be constructive,” Holland said.

Holland made the decision to take the comment sheets down. Shortly afterward the four paintings were taken from the wall.

According to the students and art professors, the paintings in the hallway were enjoyed by the teachers and students who frequent that hallway for classes that are not art related. When the artists were advised to take their paintings down, a number of people besides the artists wondered when they would ever see the student artwork again.

On Thursday, Oct. 9, the students were given permission to display their artwork again – but at their own risk. Holland also put the comment sheets back up in the hallway. The art students wrote “constructive” comments on each other’s sheets in hopes of encouraging other onlookers to do the same.

The students who were the victims find the theft pointless.

Sells said her painting was going to be a gift for her mother, but if someone had liked it she would have given it to them. She wouldn’t have taken money for it either.

“I’m glad that they liked my painting, but the fact of the matter is it’s not yours to take,” said Sells.

French said that the theft was just an “immature move” and probably just some students trying to be mean or rude.

Director of campus safety Chief Randy Melton said that criminal punishment for theft is determined by the value of the paintings.

The report states that the cost value for the stolen paintings is “priceless.” Although the pieces of art were small in size, small enough to be slipped into a book bag, they still meant a great deal to the artists.

“It was valued to me, even if it wasn’t to somebody else,” Sells said.

School discipline is determined by the “Code of Student Conduct” found in the student handbook. The document contains all students’ rights and responsibilities, as well as the expected behavior of students on and off campus. If a student is suspected of theft, they will be summoned to a disciplinary meeting with Dr. Austin Lane, vice president of Student Affairs. The allegations will be discussed, and a proper punishment given, ranging from disciplinary probation, to suspension, or expulsion depending on the severity of the crime. Lane said he wants the “due process” to be developmental – he said his ultimate goal is for students to learn from their mistakes.

“The punishment has to fit the crime,” Lane said. “We want to be sure we don’t arbitrarily or capriciously hand out anything without taking the student through due process.”

Stewart said he didn’t think that the theft was premeditated, but that it was petty, and “99 percent of the time, people do the right thing.”

Whatever the motive, the students involved in the theft, or anyone who may know anything, are encouraged to come forward.

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