11/07/2013 04:35 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

After summer fame, Montreal gallery robbed of paintings and prints

MONTREAL - A Montreal gallery that hoped to make Canada a world-class destination for art tourism, riding the street art wave that made Banksy a pop-culture phenomenon, has been dealt a major blow with the theft of $50,000 in paintings and prints.

After opening its doors to artists such as Spain's Ricardo Cavolo and the UK's ROA during June's inaugural edition of the MURAL public art festival, the Station 16 gallery was robbed of at least 16 paintings and 50 prints.

Artistic director Adam Vieira said the gallery seemed untouched earlier this week until he couldn't find his co-worker's laptop and noticed two paintings gone from the back wall.

"I went to our storage area, where a window had been broken, and several paintings were missing," Vieira said.

"This is discouraging. Our insurance rates will go up and we just set up a few months ago."

MURAL is Canada's long-overdue answer to festivals like Cardiff's Empty Walls and Atlanta Living Walls, events that transform city streets into living art galleries with murals by the art world's best.

The four-day festival hoped to replicate the phenomenon in Canada, making the country a destination for art tourism and in-demand artists with 20 murals and 800,000 visitors in its first year.

Its success was bolstered by its experienced founders, two of whom spearheaded projects at Cirque du soleil; a five-year mandate; and $260,000 from a community and business group.

Besides providing Canadian gallery walls to the world's travelling talents, Station 16 added to MURAL's success with its common touch.

Affordable prints and an experimentation zone at its separate 12,000-square-foot print shop cater to the city's independent artists and a buy-shy public.

Artist Antoine Tavaglione was curious about the motives behind the robbery.

"We're not Picassos,'' said Tavaglione, who lost four paintings and more than 50 prints.

''Someone will buy a stolen Picasso for millions and never show the world. Did they steal to collect, to sell, or just to vandalize?"

Montreal police spokesman Raphael Bergeron placed the crime at between 8 p.m. last Sunday and 9 a.m. Monday. He classified it as a break-and-enter and a theft over $5,000 but could not confirm the gallery's $50,000 figure.

Vieira said Station 16 contacted its insurance company and hopes to repay the six artists affected.

Vieira said he's received emails of support from Station 16 fans as far away as Italy and France. The Collective Arts Brewing Company in Toronto has offered to host a fundraising exposition of artwork by Station 16 artists to help pay for costs incurred by the robbery.

The microbrewery is known for its beer labels designed by artists from around the world.

Andre Bathalon, a MURAL co-founder whose agency shares the Montreal space, reported a computer and small items, but no art, missing.

The blow to Canada's contemporary art heritage has personal repercussions. Tavaglione hoped to show his paintings at the Art Basel Miami festival in December.

"Those pieces, unfortunately, I'll probably never see again," he said.

Pictures of the stolen works are available on the gallery's website. Police are encouraging the public to call the Info-Crime Line with tips at 514-393-1133.