While it may not be raining cats and dog, the District forecast for September does include a 100 percent chance of donkeys and elephants. The politically-inspired statues have found their way all over the District, including GW’s campus.
Outside Kogan Plaza on 21st Street live “Donkey of A Different Color” and “Capital Parade,” a donkey and elephant who have called the campus home since May.
These are only a few of the 200 colorful elephants and donkeys scattered throughout the District this spring and summer. The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities organized Party Animals to raise money for the commission’s grants in education program and to brighten up the city.
“The Party Animals are nice for the city because we take ourselves too seriously,” Assistant Project Manager of Party Animals Samantha Lane said. “(They’re) just lively, and they bring silliness and happiness to the city.”
The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities took about 40 days to place the Party Animals beginning May 1. They will be around until Sept. 20 and auctioned off the week of Oct. 20.
The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities received about 1,200 proposals from national and international artists hoping to design one of the 150-pound creatures.
Seven schools in the metropolitan area were chosen to create a Party Animal, including two high schools and five elementary schools. The children of Lombardi Cancer Center decorated “Elephant Wisdom” with a mosaic of tiles, each demonstrating their ideas on the emotion hope.
Lane said she believes the project is a success and that people enjoy seeing the statues around the city. She said people have come to use the animals as landmarks and meeting spots.
Lane said the Commission has received e-mails from many people saying they are coming to D.C. just to see the Party Animals. She said many of them are from Maryland and Virginia, who would not have come into D.C. otherwise. Many tourists are surprised by the animals and contribute to their cause by buying T-shirts.
Margaret Erlich, an intern at the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, also said she thinks Party Animals are a success.
“The city really rallied around the project,” Erlich said. “It’s been positive with tourists coming to D.C. and business people have really become attached to them.”
Erlich, a senior at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., visited site locations and added plaques of the artists’ and animals’ names to each work.
Despite the success, Lane said there have been some problems with vandalism. She said graffiti has been a minor problem and two animals were damaged beyond repair. Although no one has been prosecuted for defacing an animal, it is considered a felony, she said.
Two young white males were seen defacing a donkey named “Swiss-Key,” designed by Jan Leiser located on Embassy Row, with graffiti of male genitalia, but escaped, Lane said.
The elephant “Blue,” designed by Mindy Weisel and placed in front of Montrose Park, was also vandalized beyond repair.
Lane said it is expensive to replace the animals, which cost about $2,400 each. She said she is not sure if the destroyed animals will be replaced for the auction.
“It’s not like we have some just sitting around,” Lane said.
Another problem the animals face is people toying with the attachments and trying to dismantle them. She said in the beginning of the project, three damaged animals were brought inside the 2000 Penn shopping center to be restored. They have remained there in hope they receive less damage.
Individuals have picked at the stickers of presidents on the elephant and donkey named “Two Tales of a City” and others played with the tutu on “Prima Donkey,” she said, and the tusks have disappeared from “Mammoth Magic” on the corner of 21 and I streets. Lane said other animals are scuffed from people trying to climb on them and the wear-and-tear of the weather.
Lane said that there were no guidelines, as this was their first year, but if they were to do the project again, they would place more animals inside.
Animals on display are not a new idea. Menageries have stampeded through other cities throughout the United States and the world. Zurich, Switzerland was the first to do a public art project with Pigs on Parade in 1998. Artists set up Cows on Parade in Chicago in 1999 and New York City in 2000. Seattle also sponsored Pigs on Parade, and Buffalo, N.Y. hosted Herd About Buffalo.
Joe Sutliff, the artist who designed the elephant “Penny,” located in front of Old Ebbitt Grill on 15th Street, said he had a lot of fun creating his elephant. He covered the elephant with a total of 14,703 pennies equaling $147.03. Sutliff said each artist was given $200 for materials and $1,000 for participation and he, like many artists, went over the designated budget with other supplies.
Sutliff, a commercial artist and graphic designer, said it took him about four weeks to complete his project. He chose pennies because he wanted something durable that would sustain through weather and vandalism.
“I like the texture that it gives the elephant,” Sutliff said. “Mine is one everyone can touch.”
Sutliff said some of the pennies are losing their shine due to traffic and exposed elements. He said he hoped the figure would turn green like the Statue of Liberty, but found out there is not enough copper in a penny to oxidize with the air. He is currently running tests on the best way to clean the pennies for auction.
He tried to place all the pennies heads-side-up, but working many late nights outside his house, two pennies wound up being tails-side-up.
Sutliff said he thinks the vandalism is horrible, but that the truth is anything can break.
“You could hurt a penny if you really wanted to,” Sutliff said. “I guess I’d be sad, but at the same time I’d be interested to see what was the motivation.”
Carla Golembe said she created the “Elephant of Infinite Dreams,” located at 1400 M St., to describe where she goes in her dreams and fantasies. On one side of the elephant is a woman sleeping on a couch, representing dreams, and the other side has a mermaid, angel and fish, which represent fantasies.
Golembe said she loves exotic locations and painting with colors that remind her of her time spent in Hawaii and other islands.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in tropical places,” she said. “The beauty, the color, the essence of the color and the respect the culture has for nature really resonates with me and connects with my soul.”
Golembe, originally from Boston, currently lives in Rockville. She writes and illustrates children’s books and teaches at the Maryland College of Art and Design. Her paintings have been displayed at Zenitch Gallery in D.C. and the Steven Scott Gallery in Baltimore.
Golembe said she has a romantic vision when creating art that may not always be very practical and definitely not political.
“If there is anything political, it’s that it is beyond politics. It’s about life and feelings and not about (political) parties or taking a side,” Golembe said.
Golembe said she is disheartened by vandalism of the animals.
“People really put their heart and souls into these projects and it’s their creation,” she said.” We’re not the bad guys. It was something that was supposed to make everyone’s life better, it was a gift from the city and no one has to pay to see it.”
Golembe said she is lucky her elephant is located outside the Wyndham Washington Hotel because hotel doormen are constantly watching out for it.
Sophomore Jon Gass, who worked at the GW admissions office this summer, said he saw people’s reactions to the animals being placed around the city. He said everyone who came into the admissions office had something positive to say about the animals.
Gass said his favorite animal is the “Donkefant- Republicrat” on 21st and Q streets because it is a donkey surrounded by a chicken-wire shell of an elephant.
“It shows the bi-partisan independence in the world,” said Gass.
For more locations check out www.partyanimals.org.