It wasn't the art heist of the century — "someone came in and took some artwork off the wall and left with it," the vice president of the Towson ARTS Collective said. But it was a big deal for the small nonprofit that promotes local artists and runs classes to teach others how to paint.
And so the people who run the collective are trying to turn a discouraging crime into a positive event with a fundraiser to help repay the artists whose work remains missing and improve security at its basement building on York Road.
"When this happened," said Kate Mansperger, the vice president, "everyone was really upset, and we decided to turn this into a good thing."
The thefts in October were a blow to the organization because it relies on good will with local artists to put their work up for sale. If artists boycott, then money for other programs such as Wednesday night figure drawing classes will dry up.
So the president of the collective, Brian M. Truax, who co-owns the Towson Framing Gallery, said the group spent quite a bit of money improving security and would like to "compensate the artists."
The theft occurred between 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 13, and 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 14. Seven pieces of art were taken from wall displays, including a painting called "Alley Shadows," a photo of an accordion player and a mixed-media work titled "Happy Ending."
Cpl. Mike Hill, a spokesman for the Baltimore County Police Department, said the value of the missing artwork totals about $2,100. He said no suspects have been arrested and the case remains open. The collective is in the 400 block of York Road, south of the traffic circle, behind a red door next to the Greene Turtle Sports Bar and Grille.
In fact, the collective is in a basement that shares space with the tavern, though a key was required to enter the common area. Truax said that while it wasn't obvious to bar patrons, if you went through the Greene Turtle's back storage room and took a wrong turn, you could've ended up in the gallery even after it had closed for the day.
That "shared space" is no longer shared, and that's one of the security improvements made after the theft. Police said there was no evidence of a break-in or forced entry.
Truax said the amount of money they can give to the artists depends "on how much we raise. We spent a lot of money on security for our small budget, and beyond that we need to figure out some way to make everyone happy."
The nonprofit does not receive money from the state or county, and relies on donations and arts sales. In a letter posted on its website, Truax notes that the organization has never before solicited donations, even in "dire circumstances."
But, the president continued in his letter, "If I were to pick a good opportunity to do so, then this would be it."
The fundraiser is scheduled for Feb. 10 at 7 West Bistro Grille in Towson. The gallery's website, towsonartscollective.org, has more details.
The theft received little attention. But it's these types of crimes — seemingly trivial and not headline-grabbing — that can put a tiny, struggling nonprofit out of business, and out of the community.
Truax and others who run this collective are trying to turn the heist into the title of one of the missing pieces of art — they want a "Happy Ending."