11 Public Art Projects You Might Have Missed

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For more than a decade, cities all over the world have been regularly invaded during the height of the tourist season by colorfully painted statues of animals or objects, all in an effort to raise money for local charities. The subjects for these projects range from the mundane to the bizarre, but they're always a big hit with the community, as shown by the hundreds of thousands of dollars that are spent when the art pieces are auctioned off after the exhibit has ended. Unless you're a connoisseur of cows, here are a few of these public art projects that you might have missed.

1. CowParade – 50+ cities worldwide

When? 1998 – today

What? Most of America first heard about CowParade when the brightly painted bovines visited Chicago in 1999. However, the cows actually appeared first in Zurich, Switzerland, as the Land in Sicht ("Countryside in view") exhibit in 1998. Since then, CowParade has become a worldwide phenomenon, raising millions for non-profit groups in more than 50 cities throughout the world, including New York, London, Tokyo, Boston, Paris, Milan, and Buenos Aires. There have been over 2,500 cows created by more than 5,000 artists, each putting their unique, local spin on the design. Aside from well-known names from the modern art field, celebrities like fashion designer Michael Graves, filmmaker David Lynch, and the band Radiohead have contributed their own designs. And first-name acts like Oprah, Ringo, and Elton have all purchased cows from the benefit auction that marks the end of each parade.

How Much? $20+ million to date. The highest price paid for a cow at auction was $146,000 for Waga-Moo-Moo (at left), a cow covered in a mosaic of thousands of pieces of Waterford Crystal, created by fashion designer John Rocha during Dublin's CowParade in 2003.

Who? Many local children's charities for each city, including Special Olympics, children's hospitals, and after-school organizations.

2. Go Superlambananas! – Liverpool, England

When? June – August 2008

What? Liverpool was selected as the "European Capital of Culture" for 2008 and used the event to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the city's landmark statue, Taro Chiezo's Superlambanana. This strange art piece is a combination of two of Liverpool's most popular historic imports – sheep and bananas. The original statue is 17 feet tall and weighs nearly eight tons, but for the art project, 125 6-foot fiberglass replicas were used instead.
(Image via Flickr user Haversack.)

How Much? £550,000 for the first 69, auctioned at a large gala celebration (75% went to charity). About £134,000 for another 30 that were auctioned online (25% went to charity). The rest were purchased individually. The highest bid went for 'Mandy' Mandala Superlambanana (at left), which sold for £25,000 and now resides at the World Museum in Liverpool.

Who? Alder Hey Children's Hospital, University Hospital's Centre for Oncology, the Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital, and the Alzheimer's Society.

Liverpool also hosted the "Go Penguins!" event from 2009 to 2010, in which 142 5-foot-tall penguins were painted and sold at auction, raising £40,000 for Liverpool charities.

3. Elephant Parade – Various European cities

When? September 2007 – today

What? The Elephant Parade project started in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, with 44 5-foot-tall elephants. Since then, the elephants have spread to Antwerp, London, Milan, Copenhagen, and many more cities, raising hundreds of thousands of Euros at every show.
(Image via Flickr user Loz Flowers.)

How Much? €248,500 in Rotterdam, and even better at every showing since. The biggest tally thus far was London in 2010, which raised £4 million. The highest single bid for an elephant – £155,000 – was for Jack Vettriano's elephant, The Singing Butler Rides Again (at left), based on his famous painting, The Singing Butler.

Who? The Asian Elephant Foundation, a Netherlands-based group that supports animal hospitals and buys land for the preservation of Asian elephants.

4. Buddy Bears – Various cities throughout the world

When? 2001 – today

What? Buddy Bears started in Berlin as a one-time charity event. 350 bears were painted and sold, raising money for a local children's charity. However, the project was so well received that it grew into the United Buddy Bears concept in 2002. The United Buddy Bears are about 6 feet tall with their arms in the air and are always displayed side-by-side in a unifying circle, so they appear to be holding hands. The message behind the bears is to promote peace through shared cultural education and experiences. United Buddy Bears travel the world representing 140 countries recognized by the United Nations, stopping in places like Tokyo, Sydney, Cairo, Jerusalem, Helsinki, and Pyongyang; international film star Jackie Chan helped bring the bears to Hong Kong in 2004. At the end of every event, some of the bears are sold for charity and new ones are commissioned to ensure there are always 140 in the circle.

How Much? €1.7 million as of August 2011

Who? UNICEF or another local children's charity for the host city

5. GuitarTown – Austin, TX

When? November 2006 – August 2007

What? 35 10-foot-tall Gibson guitars, as well as 30 playable instruments. To up the ante, some of the statues and instruments were signed by musicians like Ray Benson, Pete Townshend, Emmylou Harris, ZZ Top, Dwight Yoakam, and Norah Jones, and celebrities like Chuck Norris, Billy Bob Thornton, Dennis Quaid, and Quentin Tarantino.

How Much? $589,000. Two guitars – Reflections of Austin and Striking Texas Gold (at left) – sold for $55,000 each.

Who? Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, Austin Museum of Art, Austin Children's Museum, and American Youthworks, an organization working with at-risk kids.

6. DinoMite Days – Pittsburgh, PA

When? May – September 2003

What? 100 fiberglass dinosaurs in three different designs:
- Tyrannosaurus rex – 7' tall, 200lbs
- Torosaurus/Triceratops – 5'6" tall, 200lbs
- Stegosaurus – 5'6" tall, 200 lbs

How Much? $290,000. The highest bid was for a stegosaurus, Seymour Sparklesaurus, for $17,5000. The Steelers' Jack Lambert-inspired T. Rex, Splatasaurus (at left), complete with football helmet and pads, came in a close second at $15,000.

Who? The Carnegie Museum of Natural History

7. Wow! Gorillas – Bristol, UK

When? July – September 2011

What? To celebrate its 175th birthday, the Bristol Zoo commissioned 61 life-sized gorillas based on one of their most famous and beloved residents, a gorilla named Alfred, who died in 1948.

How Much? £427,300. The best seller was Gorisambard (at left), a top hat-wearing simian, which sold for £23,000.

Who? Ape Action Africa, a Cameroon-based gorilla conservation program sponsored by the zoo, and the Bristol Children's Hospital

8. Moose in the City – Toronto, Canada

When? April – October 2000

What? 326 life-sized moose, making it one of the largest single-city exhibits of this kind. Seven moose were also sent as diplomats to Chicago and Sydney during the 2000 Summer Olympics. The antlers were made separately from the rest of the body and attached after the fact. Unfortunately, this method made the antlers pretty easy to remove, and vandals took the opportunity to steal them. The city offered a monetary reward for returned antlers, but this only made the problem worse, as people started stealing them just so they could turn them in.

How Much? $1.4 million

Who? 75 different Toronto organizations benefited from the moose sales, including the Canadian Olympic Association's Athlete Grant, the Daily Bread Food Bank, the Toronto Public Library, and many local hospitals and kids' programs.

9. Sea Cows for Kids / Big Cats for Kids – Jacksonville, FL


When? 2004 – 2005 / 2006 – 2007

What? 43 manatees to honor the region's native species / 53 jaguars as a nod to the city's NFL team. The manatees saw some pretty inventive designs, including a fan favorite, Kling-A-Ding, the Klingon Warrior Sea Cow. Not to be outdone, Super City, Super Kitty was there to save the day.

How Much? The manatees raised more than $215,000; the jaguars reached $220,000. The highest price paid for a manatee was $6,000, and the jaguars topped out at $12,000.

Who? All proceeds went to benefit a charitable organization founded by former NBA player and Jacksonville native, Otis Smith, called, fittingly enough, the Otis Smith Kids Foundation. The organization provided after-school programs and summer camps for kids in poor neighborhoods. Sadly, these fund-raising efforts were not enough to prevent the Foundation from closing in August 2007.

Jacksonville also hosted the Turtle Trails art project in 2010, raising $150,000 for the Child Guidance Center, which offers mental health services to kids and families.

10. Peanuts on Parade – St. Paul, MN, and Santa Rosa, CA

When? St. Paul: 2000 – 2004 / Santa Rosa: 2005 – 2007, 2010

What? Starting in the summer of 2000, St. Paul, the birthplace of legendary cartoonist Charles Schulz, placed 101 Snoopy statues throughout the city. The next summer (2001) featured dozens of Charlie Brown statues, followed by Lucy (2002), Linus (2003), and finally, Snoopy on his doghouse, hanging out with Woodstock (2004). To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Peanuts, Schulz's adopted home of Santa Rosa continued the project with 55 Charlie Browns in 2005, 76 Woodstocks in 2006, 95 statues of Snoopy as Joe Cool in 2007, and then 30 Lucy statues in 2010.
(Image via Flickr user Augie Schwer.)

How Much? Numbers for the entire St. Paul project are hard to come by online, but the first auction of the Snoopy statues alone rake in more than $1 million. Santa Rosa brought in about $1.8 million over the life of the project, with the Flamingo Hotel shelling out $31,000 for a Joe Cool statue named Boom shaka laka laka and another $30,000 for Joe Cool Giant, signed by 42 current and past San Francisco Giants, including home run king Barry Bonds.

Who? Both cities used the money for art scholarships and art programs for young people, as well as bronze statues of Peanuts characters that have been installed in public places to commemorate Schulz's legacy.

11. The Trail of the Painted Ponies – Santa Fe, NM

When? 2001

What? 150 life-sized ponies scattered throughout New Mexico. The exhibit was such a big hit that a company was formed to keep the project going, but on a more collectible scale. Now, every year, they release new Painted Pony figurines, ranging in size from 7" to 9". They've even gotten a few celebrity designers on board, like Dolly Parton, Tony Curtis, and I Dream of Jeannie's Barbara Eden. With more than $11 million in sales, the Ponies have been called one of the hottest collectibles in the country.

How Much? About $500,000 during the original campaign, but they have continued their philanthropic ways to the tune of more than $1 million donated.

Who? Over the last 10 years, sales from Painted Ponies have helped numerous schools and non-profit organizations like Habitat for Humanity, the American Humane Society, the United Way, and St. Jude's Children's Hospital.

Did you get a chance to see any of these exhibits? Or maybe you've been to one of many projects like these? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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November 11, 2011 - 2:11pm
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