To the Arts Editor:

I am by no means an art critic, but I do have a degree in art history, am a past volunteer at the National Gallery and the Phillips Collection, and have traveled extensively throughout Italy, which, in and of itself, is an art lesson like no other.

I must take exception to Blake Gopnik's across-the-board disregard for the panda art project ("Getting Cute With Art," May 30). In my opinion, any art project that makes people stop and look is worthwhile. Since when can't art just make people smile for a moment in the middle of a hectic day?

I have three small children (ages 7, 5 and 2) who love pointing out the pandas around town, and I think it's a wonderful way to introduce them to art in a way that's fun and that they can understand. My children love going to the zoo to see the pandas. To be able to connect a dot from the real pandas to the panda sculptures around town will lead to more connect-the-dots to places like the National Gallery of Art and so on. That is, as far as I'm concerned, well worth the effort and money involved.

And just to see how excited they get when they find another panda as we're driving or walking around town is great, too. Sometimes art can be just plain fun.

ALEXANDRA NEUSTADT

Washington

To the Arts Editor:

My deep gratitude to Blake Gopnik for articulating the manifold aesthetic, economic, philosophical and political reasons that the "PandaMania" project should be euthanized. Even New York's annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day floats have a long pop culture tradition and a one-day run. Alas, the District's distended street cartoons with punch-line-painted decor cause a daily collective wince among D.C. artists and residents alike. Unlike our lucky tourists, we who reside here must stomach multiple encounters with this kitsch pandemic.

Basta!!

DALE APPLEMAN

Washington

To the Arts Editor:

It is not wise while armed with only predictable cynicism and elitism for an art critic to take on 150 purposely cute and fun pandas whose only mission is to visually delight and entertain.

The general public, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities' intended audience, has already embraced this winning project without the high-art stamp of approval, and these darling painted sculptures are now seen being hugged, discussed and photographed by all ages.

And, although not evident from the streets, "PandaMania" is serving as a catalyst for projects in art classrooms around the region. As a contemporary artist and "PandaMania" participant I can only dream of such attention, affection and response from the masses for my "real artwork."

MARGARET DOWELL

Woodsboro

To the Arts Editor:

Two May 30 articles ("London Fringe," in Travel, and "Getting Cute With Art") demonstrate the need and potential to establish a world-class festival in Washington that will celebrate the serious theater, dance and visual art that exist in the nation's capital.

Such a festival will promote the District as a worthy and developing contemporary cultural center that will attract a local, national and international viewing public. A simultaneous fringe festival would promote local artists "on the fringe" while stimulating local innovation and experimentation by bringing outside artists and productions, and at the same time energizing our local economy.

The artists are ready. The audiences are ready. It is time for the D.C. government and the private sector to honor our city, artists and patrons by establishing such a festival and leaving "PandaMania" to others.

MAIDA WITHERS

Arlington

To the Arts Editor:

I may be an uneducated swine, but on my walk to work I like seeing "PandaMania." The sculptures make me smile. I thought this "public art project" was to give an opportunity for the public to make art for public display, not "artists" to make "artworks" so "art critics" can afford to have business cards made.

The so-called "art" that "artists" make I would just as soon have you keep in the galleries or in the homes of the wealthy, who can afford to throw their money away on pointless junk so we common people don't have to look at it.

What is supposed to make us smile these days? Watching the congressional circus take from the poor and give to the rich? What's wrong with a little silliness like "PandaMania" before starting another oh-so-important workday in the nation's capital?

Message to the Washington art world and art critics: Lighten up, you self-inflated windbags.

ERIK JOHNSON

Prince Frederick

To the Arts Editor:

Thank you, Blake! It is not un-American to question the bears strewn around the city. Americans have a way of needing to "Disney up" that which is natural and simple. I visited a new shop on Pennsylvania Avenue SE and asked how they got such an ugly bear in front. I was told it just appeared! Shop owners should have the right to refuse. The shop has wonderful art! DCCAH is promoting "color in the coloring book" figures. We must do better for all children.

If these sickly looking bears can not be auctioned later, we must be on the watch that they are not strewn around in our National Zoo!

JUDITH CLAIRE

Washington

To the Arts Editor:

We were delighted to read Blake Gopnik's dead-on critique of the Panda public art project because we in Arlington have been busy for the past two decades assembling an impressive collection of serious public art. Arlington also has a Public Art Policy, approved by the County Board in September 2000, which will create even more publicly funded public art in the years to come.

Our current collection (created primarily through developer-negotiated zoning projects along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor), boasts national and local art world luminaries such as Nancy Holt, Miriam Shapiro, David Chung, Tom Ashcraft and 2003 MacArthur awardee Ned Kahn (Rosslyn); Jim Sandborn and Kendall Buster (Courthouse); and Jackie Ferrara and Wendy Ross (Ballston).

Current projects include works by Mary Miss (water pollution control plant); Jann Rosen-Queralt (new skate park, Powhatan Springs Park, various fire stations); Vicki Scuri (as part of upgrades to Arlington Boulevard, Virginia's first art-integrated Department of Transporation project); and proposed projects by 2002 Whitney Biennial artist Erwin Redl and Martha Jackson-Jarvis (Shirlington Library and plaza).

If you are looking for high-quality and diverse public art, pay Arlington a visit!

NOREEN KOPENHAVER

Chair

Arlington Commission for the Arts

WENDY RAHM

Co-Chair, Public Art Committee

Arlington Commission for the Arts

To the Arts Editor:

I'd like to thank Blake Gopnik for his article. The panda I painted, "Monumental Reflections," was depicted in his piece. I agree . . . it's really a challenge to produce serious art on a chubby panda sculpture.

For the record, we artists received a stipend of $1,500 to clean the panda sculpture with alcohol, prime it with gesso paint, paint the approved design with acrylic paint, and seal the painting with polyurethane. To produce a truly serious piece of art ("worth an art lover's time") would be too time-consuming for anyone who actually has to use their time to make a living.

I have a challenge for Mr. Gopnik . . . all in good fun. How about a little competition? Who are those six D.C. artists who could make a panda into an art lover's dream? Let's change the format. Say that we take a four-foot cube of the same material as the pandas. Mr. Gopnik, you find four artists to paint it. I'll team up with three other artists from Eastern Market. We'll be the grass-roots team. Your artists can be "the top local talent."

The challenge is that we have to produce art that is dynamic and innovative and a real reflection of D.C. Some suggested names for this project are "D.C. Squared" or "City Block."

Of course we'll need to pay the artists and get the blocks formed. Maybe we can come up with two benefactors, one for each team.

Then let's put it to a public vote.

MARSHA STEIN

Washington

Letters should be sent to: Arts Editor, Style Section, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. E-mail should be sent to Arts@washpost.com. Please include a daytime and nighttime phone number and an address. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.