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EASL Heist: Art in the Dark

Story + Photographs by J R Compton

All Contents Copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

THIS PAGEsome of the art     EASL pre-event Publicity     EASL post-event story     EASL Heist Volunteers

taking piece by T.Stone

taking piece by T.Stone to checkout

As a party, the 2006 EASL Heist was fun, social, loud, delicious and entertaining. As a fund-raiser, it was the most successful (See the story at the bottom of this page.) EASL fund-raiser ever, raising $33,000 (more than 16 maximum $2,000 grants to artists).

As an art show, however, it faltered. Because of the all-concrete walls, the work donated had to be placed on the floor in a dark, sub-sub-basement with no handicap access, rickety wood entrance stairs and so little light flashlights were very helpful. Just the sort of place movie thieves often break into.

Perhaps less than a perfect place for viewing art, but according to EASL, buyers bought all of it. And if they could have got down in the vault area to witness the action, anyone could see they had grand fun doing it.

Big Party Room

Down a rickety wood stairway into the main party room before
the food and drink & entertainment. I'm sorry I didn't shoot
it when it was full of people and food and entertainment.

These photos are slow shutter shots taken at wide apertures with extremely high "film" speed, often slow-shutter panned to follow action. I shot hundreds, and these are the ones that were in focus. Many others were too blurred.

The next photo, showing a flashlight illuminating a piece of art is close to actual light level, although once our eyes became accustomed to the darkness, it seemed brighter. The problem was there was only one circuit available, and they didn't want to blow that, so they used it carefully and conservatively.

This dark

This is how dark it actually was in the art dungeon
Most of these photos were adjusted so you can see.

It was immensely hot down there. And I probably shouldn't even mention the smell of sewage. I can only imagine how South Side on Lamar described these rooms when they offered them. Maybe perfect for an art heist, but less than perfect for an exhibition of art or other artist-centric event, and far from previous EASL events at pristine and profusely air-conditioned spaces like the Fort Worth Community Art Center, Dallas' Farmer's Market, Continental Gin and Crow Collection buildings.

Door from Food & Entertainment room to dungeon

Door from Food & Entertainment room to dungeon

Not that most people seemed to notice. We Texans are a hardly lot.

Someone who worked on it told me it didn't stink nearly as much as it had earlier that week. I'm usually resistant to such conditions, but I'd been ill that week, and that smell got to me.

art dungeon early

Art Dungeon Early

I kept returning to the scene of the crime — the event employed a long set of punning crime names, most of which I avoid in this story (Though they are profuse in the post-event EASL PR reprinted below). I spent several sessions upstairs in daylight and clean air before going back down to photograph this story and nosh from the food tables laden with goodies from sushi to chocolate, chips, dips, salads, main and side dishes — and plenty of ice-cold drinks.

Caution Stink Room

Caution: Stink Room — Not sure why
they didn't just board it over.
This seemed to be the center of stink.

The restrooms near the side street valet entrance were brightly illuminated and the coolest places around, although the EASL spaces seemed to cool as the evening progressed. Luckily, SouthSide is big enough (!) to offer several bistros and scattered comfy chairs and benches upstairs. From as far below ground as the EASL Heist was, everything else was up.

Last Minute Exit Sign Maker

Last-minute Sign Painting

Quiet conversations were easy, if you were within a few feet, but any yelling across the concrete art room was lost in echoes. When the timekeeper blew her whistle — close or far — it was painful. Instructions shouted across the room to other workers were lost in the thundering clang.

Red Room

Red Room off Dungeon

Unlike many art auctions, EASL not only has its heart in the right place, they are usually artist-centric. Their money-raisers are organized and run by artists and art professionals (See long list at the bottom of this page.), and the money they raise is used for artists in medical and other emergencies. More about that on EASL's web site, where you'll find my and other artists' testimonials.

Like most Dallas artists, I am a huge fan of EASL and their events. They helped me big-time when I had a near-death auto accident a few years ago.

Art Dungeon Early

Art Dungeon During — It was never this bright,
even after our eyes got used to the dimness.

Initially, I was not blown away by the exhibited quality of the art and its setting there. I suspect the lack of light, and the fact that almost all the art was placed flat on the floor made it seem much worse. Like I say, flashlights helped a lot.

Hidden Tunnel

When I got overheated or ill, we went exploring.
Anna found this lovely tunnel near the auction room.

There were, however, many gems in the mix, including some that were not, or at least not by the time we left late in the proceedings, "heisted" by ticket holders who donated $200 for their choice of the art still available.

EASL Volunteer Marty Ray shows off her Artice Colen piece

EASL Volunteer Marty Ray shows off her Artyce Colen.

Some of the Art

As people picked up their objects of desire, I'd like that piece more than I did when it lay in the floor's darkness. Not surprising, I suppose. There were many more excellent pieces than I write about in the following paragraphs. But these are the ones I photographed and managed to get in focus — the few that I could see or looked at long enough to appreciate.

You can (or could) see many more of them on EASL's website.

I have artists' names, because they were printed in large letters on the paperwork under each piece. But I have no titles (nor were titles listed on the EASL site). Perhaps I can reconnect those when EASL sends out its lists of who got what pieces, if I get a master list (hint, hint).

Please disregard the graininess of these images. I was shooting at maximum ISO, and that produces sandbox textures not affiliated with the work itself.

I remember Marty Ray holding up her Artyce Colen (that I'd missed entirely), like a prize high over her head, late in the game. When I saw that photo on my monitor, I wish I'd shot it before Marty picked it up, checked it out and carried it up the long stone steps to be repackaged. Although Marty's probably happier no one else had locked onto it till then. As usual with EASL events, the procedure was quick, efficient and thorough.

Arthur Koch

Arthur Koch

Probably my favorite piece, certainly the first one I noticed as being really good was Arthur Koch's delicate, translucent box with semi-obscured constructions — a split heart, butterfly, face? Even in light this terrible, this subtle piece shone. I heard several comments on it.

Heather Gorham

Heather Gorham

I'm a fan of Heather Gorham's work. I like that this one is as whimsical as her best, just smaller simpler, and that continuing it along the edges extends its fancifulness into another dimension. I assume the little bald-headed girl is Heather or her paintings' alter ego, but I don't know the crowned monkey prince, although perhaps we all do.

Tracy Hicks

Tracy Hicks

I had the opportunity to heft Tracy Hick's thick, cast glass piece for the woman who "won" it. She was delighted. I liked its — as are so many of Tracy's work over the last few years — utter simplicity, without devolving into plain. I doubt it's a one-off. More likely a multiple, a building block in a larger or wall of work. Mostly flat, with tactile sand-blast and delicate circline textures and substantive heft. It felt good in my hand for those few seconds, massive for its diminutive size yet some sort of subtle.

Rachel Bounds

Rachel Bounds

I've been wondering about Rachel Bound's work the last few times I've seen it. I think of them as birds on the edge, of something, something dangerous yet undefined. I admire the flurry of textural ground without getting too complex. A simple thing, whatever it is, carrying complexer concepts.

James Allumbaugh

James Allumbaugh

I several times lusted after sculptor James Allumbaugh's deceptively simple, twisted band of aluminum. Looking at this photo (that I seriously subdid the background of) now, I'm wondering if that's the inevitable grain from shooting in the dark, or something the artist applied.

I am offended that this fellow artist's work was presented with the wad of paperwork EASL needed to work it through its system (that I've muted visually here and would usually have hung on the wall beside it), but I remember thinking I sure hoped there'd be plenty of light on my flower picture, too.

Light would have greatly enhanced all the work. Mine was placed upside down, so I was glad to have showed up early enough to right it before others saw it.

Kathleen Dello Stritto

Kathleen Dello Stritto

Kathy Dello Stritto also took advantage of her painting's edges to extend her simple creekscape beyond the required boundaries — max 12 inches in any direction. I like her long, grand, prairie landscapes, but they sometimes seem oversimplified. In this small piece we have plenty of pastoral detail — a creek, some rocks, tiny flowers, a darkened ridge — all arranged easily into a small, skyless scenario.

Joyce Martin

Joyce Martin

At first look, from the side, this lap seemed an ugly mess of screen. Multiple viewings snapped it as the lower frontal center of a seated female figure. I liked having to figure it out and its roughly hewn form, its splatter of purple and the rusty closing texture at its outer edge. Again the EASL paperwork intrudes our vision, but once my eyes fastened onto her visual concept, excluding paper rectangles was easy.

Dianna Chase

Diana Chase

The only piece I used a flash on was this curving tower of cast and slumped glass, like an ocean moment of impending splash, frozen. Soon as I figured out what it was made of, who had done it was obvious. Glass is liquid suspended, as is this wave. A glorious monument, like a great photo, captured at its decisive, arching peak. I should have shot it from a quarter view, so we could see that curve.

I had previously photographed the Kathy Boortz' presidential protest piece designed to be hung from a wall but lost here in the low shadows under a big hat. Often her satiric pieces are among the first to go. I saw many other works that might have looked great with a little light but fizzled without.

Next to the Grab Bag booth, Dallas artist/photographer
Donna Ball (in the white top leaning over the camera
behind Fannie Brito) made Mug Shots for the crowd.
Here, EASL volunteers Sherry Owens mugs while
Art Shirer, resplendent in a neon glowing belt, waits.

These are only a slim sampling of the work in the auction. With art at eye-level on a wall with light on it, I'm sure I could have found many more to like.

Here's My Ticket

Here's My Ticket

EASL had cute crime-related names for each step (See pre-event PR below.), but this is what happened:

People prepaid $200 per artwork. Their names were put into a bowl, drawn, announced, and projected on the wall in the main room. At first only one at a time, but that was way slow. Later, five at a time.

Stair Line

Stair Lined with five would-be thieves, a guy waiting at the bottom
to catch anyone who fell, Art Shirer playing with a flashlight,
and timekeeper Rachel Bounds waiting to start the action.

"Thieves" stood along the wobbly stairs waiting their turn, then were turned loose in the gallery and timed for one minute, with announced intermediate warnings — "15 seconds!" etc., ending with a piercing blast from a police whistle.

Edith Baker Picks A Pomara

Edith Baker (center) picks a Pomara

Thieves with loot were directed to the checkout table. After filling out forms by flashlight, they climbed the long stone steps to the repacking department, where pieces were reunited with the packing they were delivered in, and they either left or went back to partying.


The real fun — for me, since no one but EASL volunteers and marauding thieves were allowed into that busy, but mostly empty echo chamber — was watching triumphant art lovers connect with art that excited them.

Big Smile and New Art

Big Smile Beats the Ticking Clock

It was a rush, and I'm sorry the layout and absurd acoustics made it impossible for other witnesses — especially the artists — who were prohibited. They didn't really want me there, either, but I persisted — and tried to stay out of the way.

On the Way

In a more usable art space, an audience lined around the room (per original plan — below) would have added greatly to the excitement and fun. Unfortunately, and noise.

I'm glad I got to see it up close while most of the contributing artists and other partyers were upstairs in the food, drink and entertainment room. I hope these pictures give you some idea what the real floor show was like.

Art was alphabetized, but no signs indicated where what letters were, and reading previously scribbled notes in that light was difficult without a flashlight. Many "thieves" were disoriented, although most of them found what they wanted or liked best of what was left, within their minute.

Fewer Choices Later On

Fewer Choices Later On
Made Picking More Challenging

Their task was more challenging as the art thinned, but there were jewels to be had every step of the way, and according to EASL, every piece was purloined.

Last 15 pieces - photo by Anna Palmer

Eventually, remaining work was
lined up along one wall for easier
selection. Anna Palmer photo

Checkout was efficient and happy, if partially lost in shadows. Forms were filled out with flashlights and gentle laughter. The people I watched seemed very pleased with their new art, and I'm sorry some of my proud-owners-holding-their-loot-and-smiling pictures didn't turn out. One lady who'd just snagged a large Frank Tolbert was especially delighted.

Dark Checkout

Checking Out

Checkout, then Climb the Stone Stairway

I was upstairs talking with friends and enjoying cooler air and brighter light when some of the donors/new owners topped the stairs with big smiles and their new art. I even bumped into the young couple who got mine, and when they asked, told them what kind of flower it was — "from my mother's garden." The full title should have explained but may not have made it through the paperwork.

FWAM PR lady & Bill Campbell

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth PR director and name-puller Kendal Smith Lake
poses with Bill Campbell of Fort Worth's William Campbell Contemporary

Another positive aspect of EASL auctions is that EASL later tells all donating artists the names of who got their work. I still cringe to remember when a piece I'd donated to a Dallas Museum of Art auction was later invited to another show, the DMA refused to divulge who'd got it. Because our Emergency Artists Survival League is artists helping artists, most of the usual art auction difficulties were worked out years ago.

Valiant Valets

Free Valets Waiting for Keys

EASL's Official Pre-event Publicity

Art Heist, A Night of Crime Benefiting North Texas Artists, will be 6-10 pm Saturday, September 30, 2006 at South Side on Lamar, 1409 South Lamar Street, just south of downtown Dallas. Tickets will be sold in advance (available on line at — $200 for an Art Heist ticket and $25 for diversion party general admission. $20 Art Loot tickets are also available at event.

Art Heist is EASL's main fundraiser and party for 2006, providing the money it will use to distribute grants to artists in need. North Texas artists have been invited to donate artwork to be "raffled." Works of art are displayed and "stolen" at the event.

The evening includes a diversion party with cash bar and food in addition to art to "heist" by 170 professional artists. Guests will watch (apparently not possible in this space.) with anticipation as patrons "steal" an art treasure and join in the Art Loot grab bag game.

A $200 ticket provided entry for two, four drinks, free valet parking and the opportunity to "be a thief." Guests with these tickets are guaranteed one original piece of art. The "Art Heist" works like a raffle. Ticket numbers will be drawn at random, and when a number is called, the ticket holder has one minute to select the artwork of their choice.

"Witness" tickets providing general admission are $25 and include two drinks as well as valet parking. In addition to the main display of artwork, Art Loot bags — small artworks, books, studio "stuff" and more — will be available grab-bag style. Artists filled plastic bags with "loot" of their choice, and for $20, guests can purchase a grab bag of Art Loot.

Artwork for Art Heist was donated by many prominent artists including Brad Abrams, Laura Abrams, Barbara Armstrong, Michael Arreaga, Frances Bagley, Matt Bagley, Donna Ball, Sharon Bagley, Lane Banks, Scott Barber, Bill Barter, Carol Beesley, Daniel Blagg, Christopher Blay, Rebecca Boatman, Kathy Boortz, Rachel Bounds, Jim Bowman, Marylynn Bowman, Lisa Laughlin Boyd, Fannie Brito, Denise M. A. Brown, Nancy Brown, Alex Burton, Diana Chase, Roy Cirigliana, Nancy Cole, Artyce Colen, J R Compton, Carol Cook, Leisa Corbett, Steve Cruz, Kathleen Dello Stritto, JoAnn Durham, Lisa Ehrich, Ann Ekstrom, Betty Winton Fay, Cecelia Feld, Nancy Ferro, Chris Fulmer, Angela Gallia, Ann Cushing Gantz, David H.Gibson, Linnea Glatt, Leah Goren, Heather Gorham, Linda Gossett, Susan Kae Grant, PaulA. Greenberg M.D., Valery Guisnon, Robert Hamilton, John Hartley, Tracy Hicks, Rachel Hoehn, Kelli A. Holmes, Cindi Holt, Anita Horton, Jimmie Hudson, Val Hunnicutt, Carol Ivey, Tom Jenkins, Brad & Mary Barminski Johnson, Susan Shiels Johnson, Marilyn Jolly, Loli Kantor, Norman Kary, J. Lynn Kelly, Liz Kerrigan, Arthur Koch, Jeanne Koch, Stuart Kraft, Julie Lazarus, Rebecca Low, Rene Lowery, Dian Malauf, Joyce Martin, Rick Maxwell, Carolyn McAdams, Greg Metz, Mark Monroe, Barbara Nehman, Jerry Nehman, Pamela Nelson, Larry Newman, Gail Norfleet, Bob Nunn, Pegi Ormiston, Sherry Owens, Anna Palmer, John Pomara, Raymond Rains, Margaret Ratelle, Marty Ray, Richard Ray, Ray Reams, Gary Richardson, Johnny Robertson, Andrea Rosenberg, Pamela Mahaffey Rossing, Robin Sachs, Teel Sale, Tom Sale, Thuy Saliba, Albert Scherbarth, Cam Schoepp, David Schulze, Art Shirer, Allison V. Smith, Mark S. Smith, Terry K. Smith, Terri Stone, Gregory Story, Corky Stuckenbruch, Pam Summers, Lorraine Tady, Michael Tichansky, Frank X. Tolbert, Ellen Tuchman, Caris Turpen, Mary Vernon, Marilyn Waligore, Patricia Warren, James Watral, Lois Way, Karen Weinman, Angilee Wilkerson, Danny Williams, Judith Williams, Vance Wingate, Joan Winter, Dee Wolff, Donna B. Works, Anthony J. Wright and Marla Ziegler.

This list is incomplete, but it's the best I was able to obtain from EASL. If your name was left off, email me and I'll add it.

Donating artists also got free valet parking, two drinks and food.

See representative art by DallasArtsRevue members by clicking on the above links to their member pages.

Return to story above.


EASL PR the Next Day

Biggest Heist in Dallas history pulled off
last night by the EASL Gang!

Dallas — Police are questioning suspects and bystanders who witnessed the theft of over 170 works of art at the South Side of Lamar last night trying to determine just how the gang was able to successfully pull off such a caper. It is alleged the gang calling itself EASL recruited 170 artists as accomplices to provide artwork to entice an equal number of thieves to make off with all the goods netting the gang over $33,000.

This could be the largest caper ever pulled off by this gang. In addition, some reports indicate the gang lined their pockets by taking monies from a game referred to as "Art Loot", drinks and even allowing people to watch the "heist."

Our sources indicate that the events occurred in a sub-basement of the old brick building with dramatic lighting creating a striking atmosphere. On the surface it appeared to be a well-organized party with drinks, music, and plenty of food all beautifully displayed. There were even reports of flowers and balloons. Apparently with some inside help, thieves were being sent into the vault next door through an opening in the wall and bringing out the goods one at a time.

Detectives will be scratching their heads over this one for a while.

Return to our story above.


EASL Heist Volunteers

Marty Ray sent this email October 8, 2006:

The EASL Art Heist 2006 was the most successful EASL event since we began in 1992 with the first Auction — "Tie One On" — the Heist brought in more funds for EASL and was attended by the biggest crowd ever — Artists, Collectors, Gallery owners, Arts Professionals from Dallas and Ft. Worth areas — possibly 400 people attended — this is the number the off duty policeman thought were there.

186 Art works were donated — the largest amount ever to an EASL event — and this was the fundraiser that was possibly our biggest challenge:

(1) it was something we had never tried — not an Art Auction, but requiring us to pre-sale tickets to those that were to "steal" a work of art, working out the logistics was brand new, and pre-selling tickets for $200 each was certainly new and a big challenge, but we had help from Gus Kaprova of Houston who has done something similar before for fundraising — Sherry Owens brought the idea to EASL and received input from Gus.

(2) the space, a wild and funky environment had many challenges: a place with NO air conditioning, NO lighting, only a very few plugs were in there before the event. ALL the lighting was donated by Scott Oldner Lighting Design, LLC — the Heist could not have happened without these guys — friends of Linda Rothstein.

(3) No parking — so we had to have valet parking for the first time at any EASL event.

(4) no place to deliver and store art work before the event set up — so we had to find delivery locations in Ft. Worth and Dallas and then haul it all to the spot the day before the event

(5) SSOL required a complex insurance policy , which we have not had to deal with before, but with all of this, the South Side location was perfect for the Heist

(6) not user friendly for handicapped — too many stairs to manipulate — we did have an elevator — but it required a special key and was a long way to get to it on the ground floor

But .... with all of this — except for the unusually hot day we had on Sept. 30 — which caused our Heist to be pretty warm, (and all the fans made it noisy) but all else was almost perfect about the location — it just took a real huge Cast of Characters to pull it off such as:

Art Heist Cast:

Linda Rothstein — Bar/Food/Party planner/Rentals/Treasurer & Lighting helper & clean up
Marty Ray — Event Co-Chair — Ticket sales/Valet/ Musicians/Art Delivery/Meetings & Volunteers
Rachel Bounds — Artist Communication & Art Vault Coordinator
Sherry Owens — Ticket sales, Art Vault Set-Up and Vault Door Keeper — (gave us the idea for the Heist)
Nancy Whitenack — Ticket sales/ Art delivery, food donations/ Art Vault set up/Party helper/ event planning and PR
Rini Andres — All signage, food arrangements & delivery, Art Vault arrangement, Party helper
Tracee Robertson — Insurance underwriter, Drinks coordinator, cashier& overhead projector scribe
Gregory Story — MC and Ticket Caller, Co Party Planner & Rentals
Kendal Lake — PR Coordinator, MC assistant — drew tickets from hopper
Adele Krause — Event Co-Chair, Mailing & Printing coordinator, Logo design, Ticket sales
Chris Fulmer — Art Loot Game Coordinator & Art Vault set-up, Ticket sales
Jeanne Chvosta — food donations & delivery,Party & entrance area assistance, Underwriting
Barry Whistler — Ticket sales, food donations & delivery/ Art
delivery, event planning
Kenneth Craighead — Ticket Sales & event planning
Bill & Pam Campbell — Ticket Sales & Art Delivery location
Art Shirer — Electrical engineer, Safety inspector (stairs), Idea Man from beginning & Art Delivery
Carolyn McAdams — Art Delivery and Assistant in Art Vault
Sharon McClung — Cashier/Credit Card sales, food delivery
Norman Kary — Art Vault assistant
Rocky Owens — Runner — ran ticket numbers to Art Vault Door
Bob Nunn — Art Delivery location
Kapil Dixit — NLC student — helped with set up and Art delivery - Fri and Event on Sat.
Maura Conley — Art Vault assistant
Pat Porter — Art Vault assistant
Ann Ekstrom — Loot Bag Collector & ticket sales
Caris Turpen — WebMaster — Web Ticket sales coordinator
Allen & Cheri Cetto — helped during event with Party, Ticket sales
Roger Andres — Loot Bag barker
Larry Newman — Music & PA coordinator (and volunteer musician)
Andy Hanson — Photographer
Melissa Emmert — Loot bag helper
Layla Day — Loot bag helper
Ted Fulmer — Vault stairway assistant
Richard Ray — Vault stairway assistant
Gordon Ball — Vault stairway assistant
Rebecca Boatman — Artist check-in & Packing area
Carol Cook — Packing area
Johnny McCuddy — Bartender helper
Steven Benezue — Ticket runner & event helper
Paul Hoehn — Artist check-in table
Rachel Hoehn — Artist check-in table
Donna Ball — Mug Shots Coordinator/photographer
Bridget Talley — (NLC Student) Event helper
Taz Hussein — (NLC student) Event helper
Lisa Koen — Cashier assistant
Terri Stone — food delivery & helper as needed
Spencer Anderson — Art Vault set up
Johnny Robertson — Drink delivery


Jeremy Emmert — jazz guitarist (paid)
Vinnie Van Buren — blues harmonica (paid)
Larry Newman — bass guitar, guitar, harmonica (volunteer)
Erin Leonard — South Side Events Coordinator
Sanford Williams — South Side Facilities Manager
Bartenders — Cindy Kelley & Jim Atkinson (paid)
Steven Byrd — Lighting Designer on Site (volunteer and underwriter)
Leonard Garza — off-duty policeman (paid)

I probably have forgotten someone — but you can see that it took a huge cast of characters to pull off the EASL Art Heist. My goal was to bring in the idea people to help us (like Sherry, Art and Nancy, Barry and Kenneth, and Jeanne — none are on the EASL Steering Committee at this time, although Sherry and Nancy were two of the EASL Founders, along with myself.

Our goal was to make $30,000 — the exact figures are not in — as bills are still to come and the treasurer is doing the final tally — of cash, checks, Pay Pal, and Credit Cards — and Underwriting and paying bills — but I am sure we went above our goal — and that will be all profit — to go into the EASL Fund at the Communities Foundation.

More than you wanted to know I'm sure, but a good "round-up" that I have needed to put together.

Can't wait to see some of your photos! I was so busy that night — I did not quite feel I was at a Party — but I hope others did.


See art by DallasArtsRevue members by clicking on the above links to their member pages.

A lot of people helped with this story, especially Anna Palmer, Marty Ray and Rachel Bounds. Thanks all. -JRC


Information about helping support DallasArtsRevue —
including a new, Easy Guide to Joining this site
is on the DARts Member Page Index.