Tony Gittens, executive director of the District of Columbia Commission on the Arts and Humanities, said in a recent interview that he was unaware of opposition to the "Pandamania" project in the Washington art community.
Here is a sampling of responses to the pandas from some of its leaders:
"Art in public spaces need not be dull and 'official.' It can be delightful, even fun. But I am not convinced that painting tourist-style images of Washington on inflated teddy bears is either challenging or inspirational as art -- more like panda-ing to the public."
-- Julian Raby, director of the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler art galleries
"Here we have world-class museums putting shows together, and they might get a footnote compared to the attention the pandas get. . . . I look at them and think, 'These are for the kids.' What's missing in Washington is public art that can have a serious philosophical dialogue with the community."
-- Robin Rose,
leading Washington painter
"To put all these resources into something so disappointing and so unadventurous seems a shame. . . . The DCCAH embraces serious film and music, but when it comes to the visual arts, it seems it has no connection to the contemporary art world. The DCCAH could be taking advantage of the city's status as the U.S. capital, and drawing in internationally known contemporary artists who would enjoy the challenge of creating a public commission in D.C. You see artists creating stimulating, thoughtful public works in other cities around the world. Why not D.C.?"
-- Cheryl Numark,
owner of Numark Gallery
"There are some extremely serious artists in this town. So to me it is surprising -- a dumbing-down, even -- to see work spread through the city that doesn't amount to art. It's really decoration."
-- Milena Kalinovska,
"I understand the panda project as a feel-good attraction for D.C. tourists, but it lacks the critical basis to contribute meaningfully to the artistic life of the city. Good art simply isn't made by everybody. That doesn't mean that art can't effectively attract people to Washington. Serious contemporary art fairs in New York and Miami attract thousands to those cities each year and energize their cultural life as well as their economies. We would do well to learn from these examples before expanding our publicly funded bestiary."
-- Leigh Conner,
owner of Conner Contemporary Art
"I find the whole notion of making coloring books legitimate appalling, especially when funded by a major arts organization. . . . It's the easy way out. It's unfortunate to have it be the centerpiece of the city's arts body."
-- Jim Sanborn,
leading Washington sculptor
"We have no objection to the city sponsoring a tourist-attraction program, but don't make claims that it is high-quality art, or that it will engage 'analytical, critical conversations about art,' as Tony Gittens, DCCAH executive director, has done. This city is capable of something far more innovative and engaging than painted pandas. A public arts program that truly reflects the quality and talent of the arts community here would have entailed the arts commission soliciting input from an array of curators, artists and gallerists on the very premise of the program, much less the final product -- and that didn't happen, as far as we know. It's time for the DCCAH to start reaching out to the best of the visual arts community here and showcasing the real talent this city has to offer."
-- Sarah Finlay and Patrick Murcia, owners of Fusebox gallery