Friday, December 15, 2006

More on Stolen Clown Statues

Scandals surrounding Sarasota's clown statue iniative have been a source of amusement to me for well over a year now. From the first announcement of the city's plan to erect 70 large fiberglass clowns last fall, there has been a barrage of criticisms from locals ranging from artists to a surprisingly high number of coulrophobes. As early as November 2005, before the statues were put up, the chair of Sarasota's Public Art Committee expressed serious concerns about vandalism and possibly even protests from a sizeable "anti-clown" faction.

Interestingly, this is not the first time Sarasota has hosted a large public exhibition of clown-related art. In 1999, Japanese painter Bummei Okabe came to Sarasota to do a four-month exhibition of more than 150 clown paintings he'd created.

Live, from Sarasota, it's clowns on camera

SARASOTA -- James Goethe has decided to confront Sarasota's clown vandals.

The owner of Hypercube Technologies, he plans to lend his spy services to the gaggle of downtown statues, some of which have been bashed, beheaded and, most recently, stolen.

His company will install 24-hour surveillance cameras next week at two clown locations, on Main Street across from the Hollywood 20 movie theater and at Five Points.

"I was watching TV one night when I saw that the clowns were being vandalized," said Goethe, who will also set up a live Web feed from at least one set of the fiberglass statues. "It kind of angers me."

Sarasota's "Clowning Around Town" public art exhibit and fundraiser for TideWell Hospice and Palliative Care has been the repeated target of vandalism since the nearly 50 statues made their debut in October.

Last week, mischief escalated to theft when two of the beleagured bozos went missing.

Police found "When Pigs Fly" Saturday sitting in the alcove of a building on First Street.

But the search for the other statue, "Ra Ra Shish Boom Ba," continues some 40 miles beyond Sarasota.

The U.S. Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg is investigating whether two of its crewmen had something to do with the abduction of the clown statue while their ship was docked overnight at Marina Jack last Monday.

The marina is just a few blocks from the perch of "Ra Ra Shish Boom Ba" on the corner of Main Street and Gulfstream Avenue.

Officials are releasing few details about the investigation, but said they are working with the Sarasota Police Department to return the statue to its corner.

"We hope to have this issue resolved as quickly as possible with the return of the clown," said Chief Warrant Officer Neal Feustel, commander of the cutter Vise, on which the suspects were stationed.

"We want to make things right with the citizens of Sarasota."

TideWell has spent more than $3,500 on clown repairs, said spokesman Dave Glaser.

Goethe, a Sarasota native, said he may expand his surveillance to a few other locations.

His company will also fix a camera on some of the clowns that will send a live image to the exhibit's Web site,

And he has plans in motion for a Web site where people in Sarasota and beyond will be able to virtually bid on the statues when they are auctioned off after the exhibit ends in April.

"That way we can have a lot more people bidding on it so we can raise the price up," he said. "There are a lot of poeple that are fanatics about collecting clowns."

As reward for his efforts, Goethe will get to have some input on the design for the exhibit's 50th clown.

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