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Norman: a Guerrilla Marketing Backfire!

Warning: this story does not have a happy ending, but there is a happy ending you can read about later.

On approximately April 3rd (2020) I began work on Norman, my concept for a public art installation to bring hope and joy to people during the pandemic.

Between 1:53 -2:06 am Saturday, May 2nd, I did a guerrilla public install in Harper Park in the Anderson Mill neighborhood of north Austin.

I installed it anonymously in hopes of drawing some press…

I made the sculpture for fun, and frankly, as a distraction from the daily news of the growing COVID-19 crisis.

I planned to later submit the work to nearby towns that do temporary sculpture installations in public places, usually called “sculpture tours” where several works of art are displayed for 1 or 2 years. In these tours (I have been part of 2 so far) the artist receives a small amount of money which also, frankly, helps keep the art business flowing, but isn’t enough to write home about.

I installed it anonymously in hopes of drawing some press or attention to my art work. I certainly did not ask for permission, and I had run through a few negative outcomes in my head already. There was a risk the city would confiscate the sculpture. Maybe even issue a fine. I figured the likelihood was low that anyone would be upset enough to pursue any kind of law. There was also a remote possibility that someone might try to steal Norman.

After I’d finished the install and had a few hours of sleep, I logged into the Nextdoor social media site to see what (if anything) my neighbors were saying. Someone had posted a picture of Norman and it had a few comments. Exhausted, I went about my day as normal.

Sunday morning, I sat down with my morning coffee and logged into Nextdoor again to see if anyone was talking about Norman. I hadn’t gotten involved in the conversation yet, because I wanted some short period of anonymity or mystery.

A reply to the original thread about Norman indicated that had been stolen.

I stood up and immediately drove over to see it with my own eyes. It’s only about a five minute walk from my house, but I had to know.

I was devastated to see the that Norman had been literally ripped out of its base after being on display for only one day.

I had taken my full cup of coffee with me, so I sat on a nearby picnic table and drank it, wondering whether or not Norman would eventually turn up, and wondering if he’d sustained any damage from being ripped out of the bolts I’d used to keep him from toppling over.

I drove back home and brewed another cup of coffee. New messages were coming in on Nextdoor, apparently Norman had been found. He was just a few hundred yards away, vandalized.

I had never considered vandalism in the outcomes. Honestly, the whole thing devastated me for a few weeks.

Norman stood 5′ 8″ tall. Here are some photos from the process, the installation, and the disappearance.

Now, I warned you at the beginning that this story didn’t have a happy ending. That’s not entirely true. There will be a happy ending, it’s just currently in progress. Stay tuned for what Paul Harvey would have called The Rest of the Story.

In the meantime, if you love Norman’s goofy smile and message as much as my wife, I’ve arranged to have him put on your coffee mug through a third party printing company. You can see that here:

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