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Wexner Center reopens in wake of violence

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The Wexner Center for the Arts located on 1871 N. High St. Credit: Courtesy of OSU

The Wexner Center for the Arts located on 1871 N. High St. Credit: Courtesy of OSU

The Wexner Center for the Arts seems eager to reopen its doors to the artistic talents showcased within after the tragedy of an act of violence Sunday morning.

Sherri Geldin, director of the Wexner Center, announced in a statement Tuesday that the art center would resume partial operations starting Wednesday.

The Heirloom Cafe and Wexner Center store are expected to open first, with other center programs following soon thereafter.

In the statement, Geldin said the center was thankful for the support it has received after Dean Sturgis, a 63-year-old former Department of Public Safety security officer, killed himself after vandalizing artwork in the center’s gallery on Sunday.

Sturgis was last employed by OSU in 2009.

“Moments like these help us remember what matters,” she said. “For us, that’s … our loyal members, fans, friends and patrons who help make the Wex such a unique place in the cultural landscape. A place that fuels artistic expression and propels creative discovery. A place that both celebrates and enhances the human spirit.”

The 12th annual Zoom program will begin Thursday and run through the weekend. The program includes a family film festival, interactive crafts and cardboard fort-making.

From Thursday to Sunday, the center’s Member Appreciation Days will thank members with festive foods and drinks as well as special offers in the Wexner Center store and Heirloom Cafe.

“And with the blessing of campus public safety officials, we’re ready to get back to that invigorating work once again,” Geldin said.

However, she said this season’s exhibition, “After Picasso: 80 Contemporary Artists,” will not reopen because of vandalism and the ongoing investigation into the Sunday incident.

The center’s decision will essentially conclude the showing about one month earlier than scheduled.

The manner and extent of damage to the gallery that included works by several revered artists, including Andy Warhol, has yet to be disclosed by the university.

University Police and the Columbus Division of Police responded at 11:20 a.m. on Sunday to shots fired in the gallery of the Wexner Center.

Officers arrived to discover Sturgis already dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. No other individuals were injured during the incident.

Columbus Division of Police cruisers parked outside the Wexner Center for the Arts on Nov. 29. Credit: Michael Huson | Campus Editor

Columbus Division of Police cruisers parked outside the Wexner Center for the Arts on Nov. 29. Credit: Michael Huson | Campus Editor

In a recording of the 911 call obtained by The Lantern from University Police, the security supervisor who made the initial call described Sturgis firing shots before making his way toward the security control center.

“We have a shooter at the Wexner Center,” he said in the call. “He’s still in the gallery.”

Several minutes later, Sturgis is described as sitting in a chair outside the control center, dead from his self-inflicted injury.

“Sir, the shooter is dead,” the caller said. “He shot himself in the head.”

The Wexner Center security team evacuated two patrons and a small group of occupants from the building, as police were heard entering the top level of the center.

A section of North High Street in front of the Wexner Center, between East 16th and East 18th avenues, was cordoned off by Columbus Police cruisers for several hours after the incident. Columbus Fire paramedics and SWAT joined security personnel on scene, with security vehicles lining High Street and the on-campus area between the Wexner Center and Arps Hall.

No public safety alert was issued by University Police. OSU Emergency Management stated that the university deemed that the threat was contained, with no ongoing threat to the OSU community.

In 2010, another employee exercised violence after finding out he was to be fired, when an OSU custodian shot and killed a co-worker in the Maintenance Building.

Vernon Baisden, director of public safety, said in a statement following the incident that the Wexner Center and the Department of Public Safety have begun a thorough review of security procedures.

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