No hugs for now – Public art leaders hope vandalism not cause of fallen Founders Park sculpture


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – “I Wanna Hug You,” a fiberglass-based sculpture in Founders Park, is rooted in Baltimore, Maryland artist Dave Eassa’s reflection about what is truly important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tuesday morning, the work — part of Johnson City’s public art installations in Founder’s Park — was on the grass, ripped from its base.

Within hours, public works crews had taken the damaged work to the city garage and contacted Eassa, while Johnson City Police began trying to determine whether the colorful piece had fallen prey to vandals or perhaps been knocked over accidentally.

A passerby alerted city officials to the damage Tuesday morning.

“For us, it’s important to make sure that if there is any vandalism or anything like this that we know about it. But it appears that so far, simply the sculpture has been popped off its base,” Johnson City Public Art Committee Chair Vanessa Mayoraz told News Channel 11.

Mayoraz, an East Tennessee State University art professor, said in some respects public art faces the risk of being defaced. But public art installations have been commonplace in Johnson City for a number of years with minimal problems.

“Our history with the police and all the shows that we’ve put up through the years, all the artwork, we’ve had very little vandalism,” she said. “The community has been very supportive of art and very respectful of having art in their midst downtown.”

In this case, she said a police report has been filed.

“It looks and appears that the sculpture was popped out of its base, but no further damage seems to have happened to the sculpture so far,” Mayoraz said.

Vanessa Mayoraz hopes the sculpture can be repaired and returned soon.

The city’s public works department will contact Eassa.

“It’s very important for us as the Johnson City Public Art Committee to have a trusted relationship with our artists, so it’s good that we have the police involved,” Mayoraz said. “And public works is talking with them to find a way to fix the sculpture.”

Mayoraz is uncertain when or if the colorful characters will return to the park.

“If it’s a quick repair, it could be a month or something like that, but artists are busy,” she said. “He might be working on something else. We’ll know a lot more once there’s a couple email exchanges with the artist.

“From our point of view, we would definitely like to see the piece back. It’s actually a piece that we’ve got a lot of people inquiring about, and it’s a beloved piece in the city, so we definitely would want to see it back as soon as possible.”

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