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Park City's Egyptian Theatre aims to keep its Banksy

Published July 10, 2014 10:19 am

'Dirty Rat' • Egyptian won't sell street artist's work, but will use it to lure art tourists.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For Randy Barton, director of Park City's Egyptian Theatre Company, it could have been the easiest choice a cash-strapped arts group could make.

Four years ago, the British street artist Banksy left a piece of graffiti — a stencil of a rodent, called the "Dirty Rat" — on the back door of the landmark Park City theater. Barton and crew immediately took the door off its hinges and put it in storage.

The idea, Barton said Tuesday, was to sell the door — which, because of Banksy's acclaim in the art world, could have fetched as much as $500,000. "We've heard crazy numbers," Barton said.

But instead of making the easy choice to sell the Banksy, Barton said, the Egyptian is trying something else.

On Tuesday, Barton announced the theater and the city of Park City will display the "Dirty Rat" in the breezeway alongside the Egyptian just off Main Street, where everyone can see it.

"It will be a rat down the alley," Barton said at a news conference Tuesday in which he announced the Save Our Banksy initiative, an effort to raise money to preserve the artwork and bankroll the Egyptian's Youth Theatre program.

The initiative, Barton said, is "to offset what we could have received if we had sold the door."

There's no target goal for the fund drive, Barton said. "We would consider $200,000 a huge success," he said, "but we're hoping for more."

The Youth Theatre is in need of a permanent home, Barton said, because its old location across the street from the Egyptian is being turned into high-end condos.

Banksy, whose identity remains a mystery, visited Park City to premiere his street-art documentary "Exit Through the Gift Shop" at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Just before the festival started, people woke to discover seven pieces of graffiti left in and around Park City.

Some, like a signature on a barn structure by the highway leading to town, were quickly painted over by city crews. Others have been preserved, more or less, where they were painted.

Ken Davis, owner of the Java Cow, recalled arriving at his Main Street coffeehouse and ice cream shop early that morning and finding the stenciled image of a cameraman shooting video of an uprooted flower.

"I was mortified someone would put something up on the side of my building," Davis said. He said he was surprised when, three hours later, TV crews came to document the artwork.

After unsuccessful efforts to protect the art with Plexiglass and plywood, Davis had an iron-framed piece of bulletproof glass installed over it.

The glass did its work when a vandal attacked the work with a ball-peen hammer last New Year's Eve. The vandalism suspect, who is accused of videotaping his exploits and posting them on YouTube, was believed to be a disgruntled artist.

Another Banksy, down the hill on Main Street in the Cunningham Building's parking garage, was not so fortunate. The same vandal allegedly shattered a pane of protective glass and spray-painted the piece. Charges are pending against the suspect, a 35-year-old California man.

The building's owner, Jim Tozer, brought in an art-restoration expert to conserve the work, dubbed "Angel Boy."

By placing the Egyptian's "Dirty Rat" door just off Main Street, Barton said Park City "can offer something no small town has: three Banksys in one place."

Art tourists, particularly fans of Banksy's work, could start flocking to Utah, Tozer said. "This connects Park City to the world, through Banksy," he said.

Park City Mayor Jack Thomas, also speaking at the news conference, applauded the plan to show the "Dirty Rat" publicly.

Banksy, Thomas said, "believes in putting his work in inappropriate places. I'd like to see more of his inappropriate work placed inappropriately."

Davis offered a free ice cream cone to anyone donating more than $5 to the Egyptian's Save Our Banksy initiative. At that news, Tozer pulled a $10 bill from his wallet and plunked it on the podium. "There's two ice cream cones," he declared.

The city aims to have the "Dirty Rat" installed in time for a ribbon-cutting in October, Barton said, adding, "Maybe Banksy will finally identify himself and come personally."

spmeans@sltrib.com

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