The Streets Alive artwork meticulously created by two local sisters and located in downtown Orillia has been vandalized.
The hippie van located in front of Able Taxi - one of dozens situated through the downtown core this year - has been the target of vandalism several times, says Dale Matiuska, whose wife and sister-in-law created the unique art piece.
“It’s been vandalized a few times. They ripped the door handle right off, poked a hole in the front of the van, and somebody tried to climb on top of it which caved the roof in,” he explained.
“We tried to fix it all up the best that we could and then on Friday night around 10:30 p.m. a gentleman cut the windows open and reefed on the handmade puppets my wife made that were glued and tie strapped down inside the van.”
Able Taxi camera footage caught the whole incident on video which has been provided to the OPP.
Artists Shannon Henry-Matiuska and Tammy Henry-Johnson are trying to pick up the pieces after spending extensive time and finances on the project.
“It’s pretty disheartening and makes me think, all this work for what?” Shannon said. “We are quite upset and frustrated.”
Shannon and her sister have decided not to give up on their Streets Alive project and are working to put it back together.
“My sister and I are going to do what we can. We are going to have to change some things, but we don’t want to make another $200 puppet to have it broken into and stolen again,” she said.
“We are trying to figure out a way to fix it without a repeat offender coming by and stealing it again.”
The artists' desire to keep fixing their artwork is in part thanks to the support they have been given by their sponsors, Dapper Depot, Towns Jewellers, 125 Breakfast Club, and Mariano Tulipano.
“We had a lot of positive feedback from people coming up from out of town. So, we didn’t want to let down Streets Alive. We feel obligated to keep it nice for those valid reasons.”
This is not the first incidence of vandalism of Streets Alive artwork, laments Leslie Fournier, the founder of the project.
“Vandalism is always frustrating, and we’ve had vandalism with all Streets Alive projects and public art in general,” she said.
Fournier says the only way to deal with the vandalism is to keep putting out artwork.
“The best way we’ve found to deal with vandalism is to move forward and let the art win,” she said.
“We can never have any absolute way to prevent vandalism, but we do what we can to make the art as vandal-proof as we can by the way we secure them to the sidewalk and think out the most secure ways to produce the art,” Fournier explained.
Despite the vandalism, Fournier says most local people and tourists appreciate the work of all the artists involved with the project.
“The response from the community and visitors has been really positive and that kind of enthusiasm has grown because we’ve been able to turn it into a program and keep it going for over a decade now,” she said.
“It’s well-loved and appreciated, and I think that’s the sentiment that we want to hold onto and continue so the community is beautified and feels proud and joyful about the public art that is seen around town.”
Vandalism will never stop the Streets Alive project from enlivening Downtown Orillia streets each summer, she vowed.
“It was something we knew could be a reality from day one; public art can be a target for vandalism. It’s unfortunate but our approach is to be proactive,” Fournier said.
“We are prepared to fix what needs to be fixed, re-paint what needs to be re-painted, and let the public art move forward.”
Orillia OPP Const. Ted Dongelmans says the OPP is investigating the incident.
“It has been reported to police and we do have some investigative leads to follow up on,” he said.
Dongelmans says no charges related to the incident have been laid as of yet.