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North Side residents upset after unique street signs are stolen

BY AUDREY SMITH | JANUARY 27, 2011 7:10 AM

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John Coyne’s artwork is missing.

The local sculptor, 46, is the artist behind the North Side neighborhood’s distinctive street markers — metal signs depicting historic local houses.

But after Coyne made dozens of the silver-colored etched sculptures, which sat atop the usual green street signs, suspects stole four in the last two weekends.

Coyne was involved in an initiative through the Public Arts Program, which encouraged neighborhoods to generate projects for public display. The street signs, made in 2005 from aluminum molds, were meant to replicate six historic houses on the North Side.

“[The street markers] give the neighborhood character,” Coyne said. “I’m all for public art.”

But over the weekends of Jan. 15 and 22, four of the 36 street signs were stolen.

“It’s not unusual for people around here to steal street signs,” said Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton. Before the weekend of the 15th, five of the signs had been stolen over the course of seven years, she noted.

But what Brotherton did cite as unusual was the increase in the thefts over the past two weekends. She attributes the crimes to recklessness and intoxication.

“My guess is that they weren’t taken because of their value,” she said.

But the street signs certainly seem to be valuable to the city and to the neighborhood.

Marcia Bollinger, the public-arts coordinator, said the project was a way for the neighborhood to distinguish itself. The thefts over the past few weekends have deprived the community of what she called a great grass-roots project.

“The residents are very frustrated,” she said.

The project cost $15,000, and each street marker cost $600. But Bollinger said the value of the street markers has little to do with their monetary worth.

“The value of [the street markers] is relatively minor in terms of a retail cost,” she said. “They don’t have any value except for the neighborhood.”

In addition to depriving the North Side of a local art, the empty poles may pose threats to safety.

Brotherton said without street markers, response to 911 calls becomes difficult because police can’t find a victim’s location. One of the stolen street markers included a stop sign, which, although it was replaced almost immediately, could have caused car accidents, she said.

Bollinger said the North Side Neighborhood Association will be involved in preventing any future theft. The association will encourage neighborhood residents to be vigilant to ensure that no more of the artwork is stolen.

Coyne said he hopes any potential thieves will just ask him for a sample of his work in the future instead of stealing it from the top of a street sign.

“It’s my work, it’s my art — I put a lot of time and effort into them,” he said.


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