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No Answers Into Who Vandalized the Willie Nelson Statue, or Why

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A quick update on a story that perhaps shouldn’t be a story at all, but one that many have inquired about, and have been seeking answers to. It ends up having a very distinctly Austin, TX conclusion to it.

Very early Friday morning, February 23rd, someone decided to take a can of pink spray paint, and vandalize the iconic Willie Nelson statue that sits in front of Austin’s Moody Theater. This is the location where Austin City Limits is taped, and other concerts and events are regularly held. The graffiti was sprayed in random patterns and was primarily on the base of the statue, as well partly up one of Willie’s legs, but rather profuse in nature.

The local news reported on the incident on Friday, while representatives from a non-profit organization called the Downtown Austin Alliance that works to keep downtown clean showed up to remove the graffiti the very next morning. Saving Country Music happened to cover the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame event at the Moody Theater the next day (2-24), and no graffiti or lingering affects from the incident were seen, so it seemed like mostly a non-story.

However, on Monday, February 26th, the graffiti experienced on the Willie Nelson statue all of a sudden became national news, with Rolling Stone, American Songwriter, and other publications running stories about the vandalism. Whiskey Riff published a breathless story titled, “Whoever Vandalized The Willie Nelson Statue In Downtown Austin Needs To Be Punished To The Fullest Extent Of The Law.”

As these stories were shared nationally, Willie Nelson fans around the world became incensed that someone disrespected Willie and the statue in this way. Okay, so maybe it was a story, and we should find out who was responsible. So Saving Country Music reached out to the Austin Police Department to try and find the status of any investigation, obtain surveillance footage to share with the public, or attain any other answers.

However, those inquiries into the Austin Police Department went unanswered for about five days. Other local news outlets also received no answers from Austin Police about the incident. Finally on March 5th after pressing the Austin Police about the issue again, a representative from the Austin Police Public Information Office said they had no information on the incident because nobody had even filed a police report in the case, and no investigation had commenced.

Saving Country Music then contacted the Austin Downtown Alliance that removed the graffiti, and spoke to Brandon Fahy, Director of Public Space Experience.

“As part of our daily work, our ambassadors go around our district abating graffiti, picking up trash, providing outreach to people experiencing homelessness, and the graffiti just happened to be something that our team happened upon as part of their morning work,” Mr. Fahy says. “So they abated the graffiti. We don’t not file police reports for graffiti. We handle thousands of graffiti tags every year. That would really be up to the property to file a police report.”

So is this a situation where there is so much graffiti in downtown Austin that they can’t investigate every incident, even on a major landmark like the Willie Nelson statue? Is it a matter of under-staffing at Austin’s notoriously under-staffed and under-funded police department, or a combination?

“I wouldn’t say that graffiti in downtown Austin is a major problem,”
Brandon Fahy says. “But it’s such a low level offense that there really isn’t the police bandwidth to investigate this. The graffiti on the Willie Nelson statue wasn’t enormous. They saw it and addressed it because our whole intention is to abate graffiti as soon as we see it, because if you allow these things to linger, it invites more graffiti to happen.”

“The story is that the Austin Downtown Alliance addressed a need, and nobody needed to call us for it. We identified it, abated it, and there was very little impact to the public. We’re proactive.”

So long story short, we will likely never know who vandalized the Willie Nelson statue and why, unless the Moody Theater takes the initiative to attempt to find the culprits by filing a police report and asking for an investigation. But it seems like perhaps Moody and the Austin Police Department have bigger fish to fry since it’s been two weeks and nothing has happened.

So there are your answers about the graffiti on the Willie Nelson statue.

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The 8-foot, 2,000 lb Willie Nelson statue was unveiled on April 20th, 2012, and has become a favorite Austin landmark ever since. It was designed by Philadelphia sculptor Clete Shields.

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