A premonition of sorts this weekend prompted Leslie Harris to check out the fiberglass football she painted for the 2014 SEK Art Fest.
She said although she has been by to look at the piece, painted with a large, complex butterfly and named "New Beginnings," several times since the footballs were placed in area communities, she followed that nudge to see it again and was devastated at what she found.
"My jaw dropped, I couldn’t believe it," she said.
Someone had damaged the football, which now has scratches on the side, a piece missing from the lower part of the football near the base and cracks spiderwebbing around the work of art.
"It doesn’t look like an accident," she said Monday. "I reported it yesterday and talked with the police."
"I was disheartened in so many ways," Harris continued. "Mine also had meaning behind it with everything our family’s gone through."
She said the project offered a theraputic outlet in the continued wake of losing her daughter, Delylah, last November following a 14-month struggle with a congenital heart defect.
"It was us trying to start something new," she said of the symbolism behind the football.
Additionally, painting the football was a time-intensive process.
"I feel like there’s more meaning to something when you invest your own time in it," she said.
Harris said Jeff Wood at Vietti Auto Body Shop is going to work to salvage the football and she will repaint, but it makes her fear for the safety of the Art Fest pieces.
In addition to being an artist, Harris also is the coordinator of this year’s Art Fest and knows how much work takes place behind the scenes to make the event possible.
"As the chair, I worked really hard to raise that money," she said, adding that part of her role was to solicit sponsors, and underwriter contributed $2,000 per football to help make the works of art possible for the community to enjoy. "That underwriter also has lost a piece. The local businesses aren’t going to keep putting forth money if this kind of behavior keeps happening.
She said while this is the first damage she is aware of, it is not the first incident jeopardizing the footballs. Photos briefly appeared on Facebook of adults riding the football in front of Bourbon Street right after they were placed, and Harris said there have been rumors of an attempted theft of the football in Girard.
"It’s just very disrespectful," Harris said. "I don’t find it amusing at all and it just makes me not want to do it again. It just takes one person to ruin it for everyone."
As a result, members of the SEK are reconsidering their strategies.
"We’re going to move the footballs away from bars," Harris said as a starting point. "We have to rethink our whole system now."
She said Art Fest was designed to help revitalize the downtown area, but that if the works of art aren’t safe downtown other placements may need to be considered.
Both Harris and Major Brent Narges with the Pittsburg Police Department said the community is looking at additional surveillance, and Narges sad the situation has the department’s attention.
"The criminal damage caused to the football statue is still currently under investigation," Narges said, adding that the nature of the crime could result in misdemeanor charges. "We encourage anyone in the community that has any information about the incident to please call the police department."
Information may be reported to the PPD at 620-231-1700.