OP sculpture that boy 'hugged' wasn't appraised. His family's insurance paid $107,000

Overland Park has been reimbursed for the damage that a 5-year-old caused to a $132,000 sculpture on sale at a community center, city officials say.

The city received a check for $107,000 from the insurance company of the boy’s family, city spokesman Sean Reilly told The Star. That check reimbursed the city for all but the $25,000 deductible in the city's insurance policy.

But the boy's mother, Sarah Goodman, said Saturday she had known nothing about her insurance company payment and she wondered whether there was a thorough investigation to validate the value of the artwork.

"I haven't been told anything," Goodman said.

The city now plans to send a check for $99,000 to the artist of the damaged sculpture, Reilly said. That $99,000 is what the artist, Bill Lyons of Kansas City, would have received if the piece had actually been sold at the community center art sale, because the city gets a 25 percent commission on sales, Reilly explained.

Lyons did not return phone calls from The Star seeking comment about the financial settlement.

The art, titled "Aphrodite di Kansas City," was the work of Kansas City artist Bill Lyons. It was broken in a May 19 incident at the Tomahawk Ridge Community Center.

News about the May 19 incident went viral worldwide after The Star posted video of the 5-year-old boy touching and accidentally toppling the glass sculpture on display at the Tomahawk Ridge Community Center in south Overland Park.

The video showed the child wrapping his arms around the piece, which depicted a woman’s head and torso, and then struggling to hold it up as it fell to the floor.

The boy’s mother told The Star on June 14 that she was stunned to receive a letter from the city’s insurance company, Travelers, seeking to recover monetary damages for the sculpture.

Goodman said she and her family had attended a wedding reception May 19 at the community center and that her children were well supervised. She said she and her husband were just down the hall when she was alerted that something had happened.

She speculated that her son had tried to “hug” the sculpture and said it was fortunate that he wasn’t badly injured when the glass artwork fell.

Goodman wondered at the time why the family was being charged for a child’s accident. She said she was empathetic to the artist's hard work but questioned how the $132,000 price for the piece was established. She wondered why the city didn’t have the artwork roped off or otherwise better protected from the public in a busy community center with lots of children and families.

Many people who saw the video commented that the child needed better parental supervision. But others sympathized with the parents and argued that this was a community center, not a museum where families would be expected to warn their children not to touch anything.

On Saturday, Goodman noted that this was a highly trafficked facility that hosts children's birthday parties and other family events. She said other artwork at the center was protected by plexiglass, but this piece was not.

People who work with public art displays in Kansas City, and other cities across the country told the Star that it’s routine for cities to have a loan agreement that protects the artist, the public and the community space, including conditions for presentation and ways to assure the art is safely displayed.

Overland Park did have a loan agreement with Lyons and the other artists, which stated that “floor sculptures or pedestal works must be independently stable.” It did not specify how that should occur.

Reilly said the damaged sculpture weighed 20 pounds and came with a 30-pound pedestal that the artist provided.

He said the art piece was “clipped in” to a groove that the piece sat in on the pedestal, but the city did not require that it be bolted down or roped off.

“It was clipped. That was the way the artist designed it,” Reilly said. “Not every piece is bolted.”

He said that in order for the piece to be taken off the pedestal, it had to be lifted. “You can’t just knock it over,” he said. “The child lifted it. It was clipped.”

Reilly said the city’s insurer was contractually obligated to contact the responsible party when property on loan to the city was damaged, and the financial issue has now been resolved.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Reilly said. “We all wish it had never occurred, but we’re all moving forward.”

The artwork was titled “Aphrodite di Kansas City.” In a June 14 interview with The Star, Lyons said he had not had the artwork professionally appraised and did not personally insure it.

He said the project took two years to complete and was the most ambitious, expensive work he had ever attempted. He said he had established the $132,000 price tag because he felt that was what it was worth. The sculpture was made of small pieces of glass and other materials, and Lyons considered it to be unique.

Lyons said the toppling of the work caused the back of the head to shatter and also damaged the arms, to the point where the work could not be restored to its original condition.

Some arts consultants have suggested that best practices would call for a city to verify the market value of art on sale.

“If I were managing a program in which this happens, and I saw this rather large dollar amount attached to a specific work of art, I would be checking the paper trail,” said James Martin, an independent art consultant who has advised the cities of Olathe, Merriam and Gladstone on public art, as well as Truman Medical Center on loaned art displays. “Do we have a paper trail confirming that this is a fair market price?”

Martin said he did not know Lyons and had no comment on his work. But he said it would be prudent for a city to verify the value of art on display and for sale. Best practice, he said, would be to involve a professionally accredited appraiser.

Martin and others also said best practices for cities would dictate taking steps to make sure the art is safely displayed.

“That is a conversation that comes up quite frequently,” Martin said.

Reilly said the city has displayed artwork as an enhancement to its public spaces since 1978. For years, the Matt Ross and Tomahawk Ridge community centers and Overland Park Convention Center have hosted rotating public art displays. Reilly said nothing like this has ever happened before.

"There is an expectation that people do not interact with the pieces. Climbing is never anticipated," he said.

Tomahawk Ridge Community Center hosts a two-month juried art show and sale ever year. This year’s show ran from April 6 to June 10 and featured 158 pieces, ranging in price from $80 to $132,000. Lyons’ artwork did not win any awards in the judged portion of the show.

Reilly said the city will consider whether any policy changes are needed to avoid something like this happening in the future, but no decisions have been made.

“Anytime we have a situation like this we always review what has occurred and if we could do anything differently,” he said. “Staff is still looking at it.”