A vandal armed with a magic marker defaced five artworks in an exhibition of drawings by Ben Edwards at the Arts Center of the Ozarks in Springdale last week, writing “Bad Art” and “Make America Great Again” and “Fag” on the works on paper.

Edwards, 40, of Bella Vista, a well known figure in the arts community in Northwest Arkansas, installed in January a show called “Possessions” at the ACO; the works defaced were in the “Understanding What You Want” section of the three-part installation. The show goes down tomorrow.


Edwards was reluctant to publicize the vandalism, saying he is a believer in forgiveness and wants the artist community to continue to support the ACO. “I want something positive to come of this,” he said. “Forgiveness is the only way to diminish the power of the deed.”

Little Rock gallery owner and artist Guy Bell has asked Edwards if he may show the five pieces in his exhibition “North of South,” featuring the works of Northwest Arkansas artists that opens Feb. 18 at his Heights gallery, Drawl Southern Contemporary Art.


The  vandalism occurred sometime between Thursday night and Friday noon, ACO Executive Director Jenni Taylor Swain said. Because of the nature of the installation — hundreds of works on paper made over a 30-year period, in various states of preservation, and stacked and hung unframed across the walls of the gallery — the vandalism went largely unnoticed until Edwards came by Saturday evening to pick up a few pieces for a performance he was to do at Studio Stage 18 in Fayetteville.

As you can see in the accompanying images, many of the drawings were architectural, a form that fascinated Edwards, who has taught at the Northwest Arkansas Community College and the University of Arkansas and worked at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, growing up. Last year, he and his wife, Ashley Edwards, had a performance/installation piece at Bottle Rocket Gallery. The non-controversial installation “Possessions” was meant to illustrate that “control of an object, a person, a place or thing cannot be permanent,” according to the gallery description of the show.


Swain filed a police report about the vandalism. She said the installation had successfully engaged the community, bringing in “quite a few people.” She called the vandalism “cowardly.”

“Our goal is to unite communities that don’t ordinarily connect with each other. Sadly, our society is more and more segregated. Arts centers are in a unique position to unite people,” Swain said.

Edwards, who has been called derogatory names before — including when he was holding one of his children on his hip at a playground — said people hurl insults “when their position and their control is diminished.” Regarded that way, vandalizing art with Trumpian slogans like “Make America Great Again” could be seen as a plea for help, from someone who feels powerless and who has no other way of communicating his fears than with malice.

Or, it could be that whoever did it was just a jackass who doesn’t understand that defacing a person’s artwork does not makes America great.


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