Mental Floss

11 Public Art Projects You Might Have Missed

Rob Lammle
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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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