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City art project funds whimsical sculptures to brighten DC streets

(Published May 6, 2002)


Staff Writer

Washington’s political and cultural characteristics are among the themes that artists latched onto when they created the designs for 200 “party animals,” decorated donkeys and elephants that will take up positions on D.C. streets during the next month. Residents and tourists will be able to locate the sculptures with the help of a guide map available at Metrorail stations. The sculptures will be sold this fall, with proceeds to benefit the D.C. arts commission’s programs.

Glittered, bright and funny donkeys and elephants will be on display throughout the District during the next year, bearing distinctive designs created by local artists.

The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities received designs for the so-called "party animals" – a play on their status as symbols of the Democratic and Republican political parties – from about 700 applicants from all over the world.

Half of the artists selected for the project worked on their animals at private studios, while the rest worked at the former Woodward and Lothrop department store building in downtown Washington, where the sculptures were on display until May 5.

Each artist was given a $1,000 grant and $200 for supplies to create the sculptures. Corporations – which chose to sponsor a donkey, elephant or both – provided funds and in-kind contributions toward the project, according to a publicist for the project.

D.C. City Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp said she expects the "party animals" to be a major attraction for tourists as well as for city residents.

The project also has attracted criticism from the Statehood Green Party, which tried unsuccessfully to block the installation of the sculptures by going to federal court. The Statehood Green Party shares legal "ballot status" in the District of Columbia with the Democratic and Republican parties, making it one of three "major" political parties in the District.

A variety of individuals and groups — with about half of the artists residing in the District — were chosen to decorate the donkeys and elephants with their designs.

One set of party animals was designed by at-risk children who are part of a program developed by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington and the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives. Another pair – "Stars: The Carousel Donkey" and "Stripes: The Carousel Elephant" – was designed by the five-member Bloch family of Bethesda, Md.

For about three weeks starting May 6, the party animals will be strategically placed in high tourist areas throughout the District and in residential neighborhoods, said Samantha Lane, the assistant project manager at the D.C. arts commission. A guide map detailing the locations where the 200 sculptures are placed around the city will be available free at Metrorail stations.

The party animals – 100 elephants and 100 donkeys – have been coated with a special protective finish and each has been mounted on a 750-pound concrete base. The sculptures have a plaque containing the artist’s name, title, sponsor and a warning – "Do Not Climb," Lane said.

Each of the sculptures will be sold at a public auction this fall, and the proceeds will be used by the D.C. arts commission for its grants program and art education, officials said.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator