City auctions off pandas

About 300 people came to the Marriott Wardman Park Saturday night to bid on the painted and sculpted pandas that lined the streets of the city this summer.

The panda sculptures, which were on display through a program called PandaMania, were auctioned to benefit the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Of the 150 pandas, 108 were auctioned online, and the other 40 larger pandas and 12 smaller ones were sold at the event. Tickets to the auction cost $100.

Before the auction began, Anthony Gittens, executive director of the arts commission, thanked PandaMania’s sponsors. He shared stories of the “color, fun and smiles” that the pandas brought to the city. He also said the auction would help raise money for arts education research and provide grants for local artists.

Many people at the event said they attended because of their desire to put money back into the community.

“I am excited to be here supporting such a great cause, art is very important to all communities,” said Mary Hutch of northern Virginia.

Most of the people seemed eager to take home a panda. One couple saw the sculpted animals outside the hotel and immediately bought tickets to the event.

In 2002, the Party Animal auction, which featured painted elephants and donkeys, raised more than a $1 million. The largest sum paid for an animal at that event was $25,000.

Online bidding for the pandas began Sept. 13 and will continue until Saturday, giving anyone the opportunity to bid.

As the event got underway, auctioneer, Bill Billings livened up the crowd, poking fun at the bidders and entertaining the crowd in a thick southern accent.

“Tell him you’re a woman, you can change your mind,” Billings joked as he addressed a couple who was trying to decide whether to bid higher.

Bidding for a bear called Stars and Stripes became heated. Billings encouraged the bidding, telling a man and his wife, “She’d love to have it. I ain’t lying to you – it could be a big weekend for you.”

A panda covered in gold made by Joesph Youss Kadri raised $4,100. Billings said, “I have no idea what the gold leaf on that is worth. I’m guessing three or four billion dollars.”

People unable to attend could also place a proxy bid so that a designated people could bid for them; several bears were sold this way.

The first panda auctioned was sold for $2,200, but prices varied depending on the size and design of the pandas. Pandela Anderson, the panda replica of the “Baywatch” star, raised $11,500-more than any other panda. The total amount raised will not be known until Saturday, when bidding is complete.

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