Words ‘slave,’ ‘mask slavery’ deface Routt County COVID-19 murals | SteamboatToday.com

Words ‘slave,’ ‘mask slavery’ deface Routt County COVID-19 murals

Vandals defaced these art panels, which were created by artist Jill Bergman to encourage proper safety behaviors in response to COVID-19. This photograph was taken shortly after the city installed them earlier this winter in West Lincoln Park in Steamboat Springs. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Murals depicting Routt County’s six commitments to containment of the COIVD-19 pandemic were vandalized with the words “slave” and “mask slavery” spray painted on some of the art panels, while other parts were ripped down.

Kim Keith, executive director of Steamboat Creates, which helped commission local artist Jill Bergman to create the mural posters, said this is the third time they have been vandalized.

The posters were placed on the side of a public restroom in West Lincoln Park, facing the Yampa River.

“Clearly, someone who is upset about the requirement to wear a mask, that would be my guess,” said Steamboat Springs Police Chief Cory Christensen when asked about the motive behind the vandalism. “In this particular case, there is no surveillance videos or anything like that. We collect whatever evidence we can when there is criminal mischief and then get Parks and Rec to remove (the graffiti) as quickly as possible.”

Christensen said there are no suspects in this case, so police take a report for documentation purposes. Unless there is a tipster or they catch someone doing it again, it is difficult to find the culprit behind this type of crime.

“One like this that is a defacing out of anger, these are more difficult because they don’t really have — unless you catch them in the act — any M.O. (mode of operation),” Christensen said.

The first time the murals were torn down, Keith dismissed it as someone who maybe hit it on their bike and knocked it down on accident. But when the murals were put up again with stronger adhesive and they were again torn down, it was clear it was intentional.

“With this third time, it is not only apparent it is intentional, it is totally offensive,” Keith said. “I can’t believe people in our community would do that.”

She believes the vandalism is indicative of the divides in the county about how to deal with COVID-19. The murals were meant to blend the use of art and traditional messaging to spread the word about wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands, getting tested and staying home when sick.

The partnership between the city of Steamboat Springs, Routt County and Steamboat Creates chose Bergman’s initial design for the “Wear a Mask” mural and then asked her to create more.

“It was to try to get the message across visually about how we can try and slow the spread of coronavirus,” Bergman said.

Though she does not think they should be, Bergman said she understands the message of the murals has become controversial and political for some people.

Keith said the mask- and social distancing-themed posters seemed to be primary targets for vandals. The mask poster, depicting a young girl wearing a mask, had the phrase “mask slavery” spray painted on it.

“It is really unfortunate that people are taking it out on something that a local artist did,” Keith said. “She put a lot of time and energy into creating original pieces of art that were meant to bridge the gap between people understanding our community commitments to keeping the spread of COVID down.”

There are signs and smaller versions of the murals throughout the county. Keith said while the area is prone to some vandalism, the mural that was in that spot previously had never been vandalized.

It is unlikely the murals will return to the same location, Keith said. She hopes they are put in a more prominent location where they will be seen more and are less susceptible to being tampered with.

Not only will posters need to be remade, but she said the wall of the building in West Lincoln Park will also need to be repainted.

“It costs us a lot of money, and it is someone’s original artwork and so we want to make sure that we protect that artwork,” Keith said.

Bergman said she enjoyed making the murals and wanted to give them a positive, caring community vibe, so someone wanting to wreck them makes her feel sad.

“I am always quick to move on, but I do feel bad,” Bergman said. “They were beautiful prints.”

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