Government & Politics

Boy 'hugged' $132,000 sculpture at OP community center. Mom says city seeking damages.

After a 5-year-old accidentally toppled a sculpture displayed at Overland Park’s Tomahawk Ridge Community Center, his mom was stunned to receive an insurance company letter seeking to recover damages to the $132,000 artwork.

“It’s clear accidents happen and this was an accident,” Sarah Goodman said Thursday about the incident May 19 at the community center that involved her 5-year-old son. “I don’t want to diminish the value of their art. But I can’t pay for that.”

The city responded that its insurance company is contractually obligated to reach out to the responsible party when public property is damaged. The artwork was on a stand inside the community center at 11902 Lowell Ave.

Goodman said her family, including her husband and four children, were attending a wedding reception at the center that afternoon and were getting ready to leave. She said they were saying goodbye to the bride’s father when there was a commotion right around the corner.

“Our kids were well-supervised and well-behaved,” she said. “We were just standing down the hallway following the bride and groom out.”

Goodman said she didn’t see exactly what happened but saw the sculpture on the ground, and it didn’t look badly damaged.

“He probably hugged it,” Goodman said of her son. “Maybe my son hugged a torso because he’s a loving, sweet nice boy who just graduated from preschool.”

Goodman also said the piece was unprotected at a crowded community center that was busy that day with lots of children and families. While other smaller art pieces were enclosed in cases, this one was not.

“It needed to be cemented,” she said, adding that it was a safety hazard to other young children. “They obviously didn’t secure it safely.”

Goodman said no one from the city has asked whether her son was OK, and she was stunned to receive a letter from Travelers. She opened the letter this week after the family returned from vacation.

“This loss occurred when your son was in a closed area of the property and toppled a glass sculpture. Under common law in Kansas, you are responsible for the supervision of a minor child and your failure to monitor them during this loss could be considered negligent,” the letter said, asking for her insurance information. “The cost of the sculpture damaged is estimated at $132,000.”

Overland Park city spokesman Sean Reilly said the artwork was on loan to the city and was the city's responsibility. He said that years ago, the City Council approved art pieces in city facilities, including the Matt Ross and Tomahawk Ridge community centers, and sees art as an attraction for its public buildings.

“The city has a responsibility to file a claim with our insurance company, and we do that any time city property is damaged,” Reilly said Thursday. “It will be up to the insurance companies to get this worked out.”

The art was titled "Aphrodite di Kansas City" and was the work of Kansas City artist Bill Lyons. He said it was submitted to an art exhibition and sale that began April 6 and ended June 10. He valued the piece at $132,000, and that was the asking price.

Lyons said the piece was made of small pieces of glass and other materials and was unique.

He said the project, which took two years to complete, was the most ambitious piece he has ever done. The back of the head was shattered, and parts of each arm were damaged, to the extent that it cannot be repaired to its original condition, Lyons said. He did not have insurance for the piece.

"I want to be reimbursed for the amount of time that I spent on it and for what I think it is worth," he said.

Lyons declined to comment about how the work was damaged and whether it was the parents' responsibility or the city's to make sure the artwork was protected from children or public risk.

According to a police report, several officers were called to the community that evening about a "disturbance." One officer said he met with Goodman in the parking lot, and she said her child had injuries to his face and went through a traumatic experience. The officer told Goodman it was a civil matter and watched security video of the incident.

"It appears (the child) tried to climb on the statue, causing the statue to become unstable and fall forward," the report said.

Another officer spoke with a community center official and watched the video.

"The involved child stops in front of the statue and then reaches up, grabbing part of the statue and pulling on it," the report said. "A moment later, the upper portion of the statue starts to topple forward. The child tries to catch it but he cannot. The top of the statue falls to the ground, breaking in several locations."

In an interview with The Star, Goodman was adamant that her children were well-supervised and she was not negligent.

She said she hopes her insurance company can get this resolved.