A called a lack of respect.
The exhibit, which has been in the courtyard outside of Snyder-Phillips Hall for the past six and a half months, consisted of 12 metal signs valued at as much as $10,000. Each of the signs was marked with the words “Michigan, today your host is,” followed by the names of different Native American tribes in the state.
Four of the 12 were stolen between about 8 p.m. Saturday and 11:30 a.m. Sunday, MSU police Sgt. Florene McGlothian-Taylor said.
Two of the four signs were found inside Mason-Abbot Hall during the weekend, Residential College in the Arts and Humanities Dean Stephen L. Esquith said. Esquith said he does not think they were taken with malicious intent, as the artwork has received nothing but praise in its time at MSU, he said.
“I think it was instead of taking a sign that said, ‘Bogue Street,’ (the thieves) found some more interesting signs that they didn’t understand,” he said. “We are disappointed this happened, but we understand when you display public art like this, someone will find it so attractive they will want to display it themselves.”
Taylor said investigation continues into the theft of the other two signs. There currently are no suspects, she said.
The nationally acclaimed artist, Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds — a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian tribes and former visiting artist in residence at the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities — said the thefts reflect an apparent lack of respect from students.
“It’s kind of hard to believe that with such a small campus, people wouldn’t understand it’s an art thing,” he said. “To me, (the theft) related to Native American freedom or rights.”
Political science junior Rhianna Biernat said the theft likely was the product of people trying to be funny. Biernat said she did not understand the meaning of the signs.
“It’s sad that they’re gone,” she said. “I thought the signs were cool. … I think people took them because they didn’t know what they were and thought it was funny. They could have been drunk or whatever.”
Heap of Birds said this is not the first case where his artwork was disrespected. A display at the University of Illinois was vandalized, leading to prosecution of the vandals, he said. The signs need to be replaced and criminal prosecution is worth discussing, he said.
But Heap of Birds said he mostly hopes the other two signs will be returned.
“The work is available for people to see so they can be educated of native rights,” he said. “It’s really necessary to have this type of work to educate, to have students educated about native life and culture — that’s the mission of the art work.”