Some people are stealing more than a just glance at artwork in government buildings.
Records kept by the Canada Council for the Arts show thieves have made off with pricey works of art on display in federal offices, airports and universities.
A list obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act shows more than $80,000 worth of art has disappeared over the years.
Not all of it was stolen.
One piece was sold at auction after someone at Montreal’s Mirabel Airport mistakenly put it in the lost-and-found.
The government bought Canadian artist Ann Newdigate’s tapestry, “Creatures of Habit,” for $5,570. No one knows how much it sold for at auction, or where it is today.
“It was taken down by Transport Canada, and it was placed with goods from the lost-and-found department, and it was sold at auction,” said Victoria Henry, director of the Canada Council Art Bank.
“So someone owns it, and has the name of the art bank, the label on it, for sure.”
Henry said insurance covered the loss of the tapestry.
Other stolen works include paintings, photographs and soap stone sculptures.
The Canada Council Art Bank is the largest collection of contemporary Canadian art in the world, with around 17,000 works by some 2,500 artists in its working collection.
The entire collection was originally valued at $18 million. Now it is worth $70 million.
Companies and government departments and agencies can rent art from the collection to display in their offices and public spaces. It costs between $120 and $3,600 a year to rent a work of art.
The Canada Council says around 5,000 works are currently rented out to government offices, hospitals, schools and businesses.
The most valuable piece to be swiped was a small floor sculpture by Toronto-based artist Noel Harding. The 16-millimetre film-loop projection with moving props cost the government $13,055.
Henry defended the art bank’s track record. She said only 201 works of art have been stolen since the art bank opened in 1972.
“We have rented well over 250,000 art works,” Henry said.
“So it’s a very limited number of works that have actually been lost or stolen during the 40 years that we’ve been in existence. So, it’s a pretty good record.”
Crooks struck CBC buildings most. The public broadcaster has been hit 16 times at its bureaus across the country.
Public Works has been robbed nine times at its Vancouver, Montreal, Gatineau, Que., Halifax and St. John’s, N.L., offices. Thieves struck the Finance Department six times and the offices of the taxman five times.
Not even Public Safety Canada was safe. A soapstone sculpture by Inuit carver Enook Manomie and black-and-white photos by Robert Boffa were nabbed at two of the agency’s offices.
“The public spaces are public,” Henry said.
“I would say in all cases, there’s usually in the lobby area some kind of a receptionist, if it’s a government building, or a commissionaire in fact.
“So it is a bit of a surprise when a major work like that disappears.”
Scenes of some other heists include immigration offices, hospitals, universities and colleges.
Meanwhile, around 100 works of art collectively valued at $413,884 have been damaged beyond repair.
Most of the too-damaged-to-display pieces were heavy fibreglass sculptures. Warehouses and loading docks were where most of the damage occurred.
Henry said many of those works simply deteriorated over time.
You might also be interested in: Stolen art and insurance