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Shame On You: Facebook Campaign Targets Arizona Art Thieves

A bar owner says his Facebook post persuaded two alleged accomplices in an artwork theft to pay up $500.
Image: Surveillance footage showing a suspected art thief at The McMillian restaurant in Arizona
Surveillance footage shows a suspected art thief at The McMillan Bar and Kitchen in Flagstaff, Ariz.Courtesy of The McMillian

Steal some bar glasses, shame on you. Swipe a painting, shame via Facebook.

A social media campaign aimed at recovering a missing painting from an Arizona bar has attracted widespread community support. The tactic achieved some success: The bar owner says it persuaded two accomplices in the crime to come forward with $500 for the artist whose work was stolen off the wall.

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Tyler Christensen, who owns The McMillan Bar and Kitchen in Flagstaff, posted a photo of the incident on June 9, captured by surveillance video, on the bar's Facebook page. It shows a man in a booth sliding the painting into a backpack with two other men beside him. Christensen told local media that the man also stole some drink mugs.

The stolen painting was part of a monthlong showcase featuring local artist Emma Gardner's work.

Since Christensen posted the photo with a letter, it's garnered more than 4,400 likes and 8,000 shares.

"We enjoyed having you as our guest up until the moment you decided that the art we had on public display would look better in your private collection."

He told NBC News that he chose Facebook to confront the thieves directly, "the old fashioned way."

“I don't want to get somebody in trouble for it. I just want to right the wrong," he said.

Christensen also filled the empty wall space with the framed image, which he plans to remove once the painting is returned or Gardner's show concludes at the end of the month. He said it's his way of saying, "I'll leave this up until you give the art back."

Facebook users have praised the initiative, nicknaming the two people pictured in Christensen's post "Salvador Dali" and "Owen Wilson."

“I think it’s a testament to Flagstaff as a city … People here behave much more like a town. They look out for each other,” Christensen said.

— Natalie Daher