On Sunday, March 26, five paintings by Tucson artist Cristina Cardenas were discovered stolen from an office space that's part of the former Bring Funeral Home on Scott Avenue downtown (236 S. Scott Ave.).
Cardenas is a member of the Citizens Artist Collective at the Citizens Warehouse, 44 W. 6th St.
Cardenas says the art was part of an informal group show. The former Bring Funeral Home is a Peach Properties space. Patricia Schwabe from Peach Properties met with some Citizens artists to ask if they would be interested in lending their work to hang in an area of the building used for office space and events. Cardenas was one of seven artists who agreed. It was on Sunday that Cardenas received an email fellow Citizens artist Titus Constanza who was reportedly contacted by Schwabe.
"'Patricia told me that your pieces are missing. Did you happen to remove them by any chance?'" Cardenas recalls.
When the paintings were stolen isn't exactly clear. Police reports were filed this week by Schwabe and Cardenas, but neither report was available at the Tucson Police Department when I went there yesterday to request copies. I was told the police were just called, so written reports would be available later this week.
Schwabe and I exchanged a few voicemails, and she responded to an email I sent asking about the theft. She wrote that a few months ago she reached out to Citizens artist Constanza about hanging art in the building.
"I love having local artists show when possible and I believe the building created a great setting. White beautiful walls. Titus was very helpful, he brought his art and later art of other artists. The building is occupied by offices mostly. The (Owls Club) bar occupies its own space, with its own entrance," Schwabe wrote.
"This past weekend I noticed some pieces missing, I contacted Titus immediately. I did not know the name of the artist that had painted the pieces missing. I did not know if she/or he had picked up the art. It was peculiar because no other items in the building were missing. I did a walk through and didn't see anything else out of the ordinary."
Schwabe wrote that her office is in the building and she is there almost every day. Constanza, she wrote, contacted the artist and told her Cardenas hadn't taken the pieces.
"Then I contacted our tenants. They were all very surprised that something would be missing. No idea of what happened and had not seen anything suspicious. ... Titus, Cristina and I met the next day and I offered to file a police report. ... I think this incident is awful, it doesn’t reflect the principles or culture of the people in the area or that visit the building. Whoever took it, took advantage of a positive situation," Schwabe wrote.
Cardenas says that she was told an event took place at the property on Saturday night, and most likely that's when the paintings were stolen—three small pieces, gouache paint on wood panel and two medium size pieces, gouache paint on wood board.
"When I went there (Monday) with Titus, Patricia showed me the nails where the paintings were hung. It would be easy to take them. There is no security camera," she says.
It's understandable that Cardenas is upset about her work being stolen and was working with Schwabe to compensate her for the paintings.
Cardenas has been an artist and art instructor in Tucson the past 30 years. Her work is part of the permanent collection at the University of Arizona Museum of Art, the Museum of Art in Chicago and the Mexican Museum in San Francisco, among others.
Cardenas says the value of the work stolen comes to $6,150, and she is asking that Schwabe pay her $4,614 with half paid immediately and the other half next month. Cardenas says Schwabe had offered to pay $3,000 over several payments, which Cardenas says is not acceptable.
However, no payment is expected to be made, since Schwabe confirmed she is filing an insurance claim, but she told me she doesn't know when or if the insurance payment will be made or how long the process will take.
"I have given the police report information and insurance information to Cristina," Schwabe wrote. "I believe there is a process of investigation and appraisals will be needed."
Schwabe shared that she is frustrated with social media posts about the theft, especially those that identify the location as the Owls Club, the bar on the main floor of the former funeral home that has its own separate entrance.
"I am concerned that the information posted, not sure by whom on social media, mentions the Owls, now Penca (the downtown restaurant owned by Schwabe), also that my husband and I are responsible," Schwabe wrote in a text message.
"I didn't steal the art. I did call the police. I did file the police report. I've called the insurance. The original agreement was only me through Titus as the curator. Not my husband or any of the other businesses we own. Not sure why this wrong information is being posted in social media."
However, Cardenas, a working veteran artist, is just as frustrated and not eager to shrug this off as a bad experience or lesson learned.
"I understand they wanted good art in their business, but they may not understand how much it actually costs. But there weren't even names or prices with the paintings. I don't feel appreciated. It is important that any establishment that chooses to show artwork of recognized artists understands the value, responsibility and privilege to have that work on their walls," Cardenas says. "For the first time in decades the value of my artwork was questioned. My ceramic murals produced with students and my public art commissions have been part of the visual landscape of this community."
Cardenas says she expects Schwabe to take full responsibility and appreciates the support she's received from the community. However, wouldn't it be great to save everyone involved more stress and heartache by seeing the paintings returned? If you know the douchebag who took the paintings, you're the douchebag or if you've seen these paintings sitting in the corner of your roommate's bedroom, call TPD or sneak them back in or to Cardenas' studio at the Citizens Warehouse.
That would be the best ending to this story.