Public Art Showing African American History Vandalized

( – Authorities from the Tampa Police Department are investigating the vandalizing of a one-of-a-kind artwork display that occurred in the middle of the night on Oct. 2 in downtown Tampa. Rufus Butler Seder was one of the artists who created the Lifetiles display, which depicts the story of freed slaves who settled there at a place known as “The Scrub.”

The tiles are thick pieces of glass that artfully highlight black history as far back as the end of the Civil War. The National Endowment for the Arts partially funded the project, which authorities said, “tell the story of the African American community and Historic Central Avenue.” The artwork appears to have been smashed nearly 30 times by a blunt object, doing tens of thousands of dollars in damage.

The artists who handcrafted the tiles came down from New York to do the project, so the likelihood of an immediate repair is slim. Tampa’s arts and cultural affairs manager Robin Nigh said that the city is in contact with art restoration professionals but will also be contacting one of the artists to see if he would be able to repair the tiles. Nigh is committed to rebuilding if the display is irreparable because she feels that artwork is important for communicating and showing off the community’s values. The artwork is one work out of many in Perry Harvey Sr. Park, where a statue of the civil rights and union leader is displayed.

Detectives who are leading the investigation are working with residents of the area and nearby businesses to collect surveillance footage to try and identify the perpetrator(s). Tampa Police Chief Lee Bercaw said that the vandalism “is an insult to our community and to all those who contributed to its creation.” Tampa City Council member Gwen Henderson suggested that the city should put up signs to inform the public that action is being taken to find out who committed the vandalism. She believes that the person or persons who destroyed the display committed the act out of hate but cautioned that she was not jumping to blame it on race-related hate.

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