Sign theft baffles Visions Studio Tour artists

Visions signs like this one are stolen every year, leaving studio-tour organizers wondering why, while footing ongoing replacement bills. - Andrew Leong
Visions signs like this one are stolen every year, leaving studio-tour organizers wondering why, while footing ongoing replacement bills.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

It's tough for artist Terry Harrison to picture why thieves are targeting Visions Art Studio Tour signs.

"We can't figure it out. Last year 45 were stolen; this year about the same number, maybe a few more," she said of the annual studio tour recently held July 4 to 6 on Cowichan's web of back roads.

But at $2.50 a sign, costs to replace the pinched placards total about $250 — no joke for artists on a shoe-string budget.

"We're just starving artists paying our way," she said.

Visions artists erect the red, arrow-shaped signs on Thursdays before the event starts Fridays.

"The signs aren't very large, but it doesn't take them long to take them away."

Why steal them? "We're completely baffled," Harrison answered, noting Visions is careful not to have its signs conflict with those of other events.

"Some people just take signs."

Such as one at Cherry Point Road. "They took the sign, then one artist put one back, and a half hour later it was gone."

Or at Shawnigan Lake-Mill Bay Road, and Cameron Taggart Road. "We put them up high enough, but whoever was taking them was prepared (to steal) with a ladder and wire cutters," said a harassed Harrison.

"I've been told there's someone rabid about signs around here, and everyone's signs get taken."

Problem is, tour patrons can get lost and leave Cowichan without seeing, and maybe buying, artwork at Visions' 16 participating studios.

"We've definitely lost traffic. I've had calls from people asking way we have no signs up."

And Visions folks haven't even had a chance to retrieve their way-finding wares.

"No one has contacted us and said 'We don't like you putting signs up.' If they let us know where they don't want them, we won't put them there. We're really careful where we put them."

For example, the 18- by 8-inch tags are not hung on Hydro or phone poles, nor on private property, without permission.

"We're law-abiding, but this is really weird; we've had no ransom notes," Harrison said.

Thieves even stole Visions' 12-foot banner strung, with permission, near Cowichan Lodge.

"This is organized (theft). Whether there's more than one person, we don't know."

So Visions artists request folks to record license-plate numbers of anyone seen boosting their signs, then report those plates to police.

"I wonder if there's a room somewhere papered with Visions studio signs?" mused Harrison.

Meanwhile, she and her group have hatched a way to identify and catch the kleptomaniacs during next year's studio tour.

"We have a plan," she vowed.

Information about swiped signs can be reported to Harrison at 250-743-3862.

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