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Stolen artwork and fake money — artists say it unfortunately comes with the territory of arts festivals.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust said it is increasing security measures after a burglar stole thousands of dollars in artwork, jewelry and other items late Saturday from Three Rivers Arts Festival booths in Point State Park. Artists said they also dealt with having to pay close attention to money as several fake $100 bills floated around the first night of the festival on Friday. 

“It was like a stab to the chest,” said Alexis Croyle, owner of the Lex Covato brand and participant in the festival. “I’ve been through storms and you will lose a little, but this was the biggest loss I’ve experienced.”

Ms. Croyle, who has participated in the Three Rivers festival for nine years, creates paintings of former presidents with tattoos, as well as illustrations of colorful distorted figures and notable historic individuals. Roughly $1,200 of her paintings was stolen from her booth Saturday night, she said.

“They took [a painting of] Mr. Rogers with tattoos, Tim Burton and Andy Warhol,” Ms. Croyle said. “I’m generally very trusting. But I feel like I have to watch people now.”  Her missing Andy Warhol-themed painting is worth $900, she said.

At least four others, including two art dealers, had artwork stolen from their festival booths that night as well.

Chris Jackson, from Chicago, reported the theft of four paintings valued at more than $3,000, including a horse painting and a large version of a Penguins Stanley Cup tribute. The thief, he said, entered his booth by unzipping the back of his tent.

Local photographer Dave DiCello said he had around 150 coasters stolen from his booth, but declined to give further comment.

The thieves appeared to hit several tents that were located a short distance from a security booth, which felt like a “slap in the face,” according to Dan Sullivan, a local glass artist. He said none of his glass necklaces was stolen, but security should monitor the back of tents. People often steal jewelry, he said, so some jewelry artists take down their sets every day and set them up again to prevent theft. He, however, leaves his merchandise up when he leaves for the day.

“It’s hard to take everything down and then reset it up again,” Mr. Sullivan said. “It’s dark at night, so [the thieves] obviously had to be canvassing throughout the day. You just never know who.”

Jake Weiland, manager of Point State Park, said officials can’t provide details regarding how many artists were affected by the thefts because the investigation is ongoing. Commonwealth law enforcement of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is probing the incident, he said.

“We will be working with the Cultural Trust and law enforcement through this process,” Mr. Weiland said. “The city of Pittsburgh has been very nice and helpful to work with." 

Last weekend’s theft is “highly out of the ordinary,” and the festival always implements 24-hour security through a third-party vendor, according to Robin Elrod, director of communications at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. She declined to say which security vendor has been contracted for the festival.

The annual festival hosts around 50,000 people a day, she said.

“Since learning of this activity, we have alerted our on-site staff, volunteers, and security partners in the city to be on special lookout for these acts and have dedicated further resources to security in the Artist Market area,” Ms. Elrod said. “If anyone sees something suspicious in the area, we encourage them to alert our public safety team, which can be reached in the public safety tent at the entrance of Point State Park or by calling 911.”

Several artists said Monday they noticed an increase in security walking around the festival, and they were provided zip ties to help constrain tent zippers. Tents have a zipper in the front and back that artists simply zip closed when they are finished.

Jennifer Float, 47, of Columbus, Ohio, wasn’t affected by the thievery, but said she was disappointed security “wasn’t doing its job.”

“There was a lot happening this weekend,” Ms. Float said, referencing Pride and the arts festival. “It stinks, but we’re all healthy and we’re all safe.”


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