Elephant Wisdom

In 2002, the District of Columbia hosted a public art exhibit called Party Animals. Artists from all over the area were invited to submit designs to decorate an elephant or donkey-the symbols of our two main political parties.

Inspired by the successes of Chicago’s Cows on Parade and similar public arts projects in other cities, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities knew Washington and its artists could only benefit from a chance to display their creativity, generosity, and profound sense of community to the rest of the world. Over a period of nine months, the DC Arts Commission worked diligently to turn over hundreds of well-formed, near life-sized creatures—100 elephants and 100 donkeys—to artists.

Tracy’s Kids managed to submit a winning design! We proposed to cover an elephant with a mosaic of wishes, each sculpted and glazed in stoneware by patients and families. We called our elephant “Elephant Wisdom,” and it became a colorful collection of wishes from small, “I wish I could win at Bingo!” to very big, “I wish for no more illness ever again.”

We found there was something very beautiful and poignant about calling up one’s heart’s desires in the face of one’s most profound fears. People found surprising connections in hearing what others wished for.

We were honored to be selected as one of eight animals displayed in the exhibit’s inaugural event. We even had the pleasure of meeting the First Lady and having our picture taken with her and Washington, DC mayor Anthony Williams!

The Party Animals public art project was launched by Mrs. Laura Bush, First Lady of the United States, and Anthony Williams, Mayor of the District of Columbia on April 23rd, 2002. Now, residents and visitors of Washington stumble upon the sculptures scattered throughout the city. They were auctioned off at the end of the exhibit in October 2002, and reside on street corners, in private gardens, in front of two DC post offices, and many other locations throughout the DC area. With the help of the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Lee Kimchee McGrath Memorial Fund and a group of interested patrons, we were able to buy our elephant back at the end of the exhibit. Elephant Wisdom now stands on the Podium Level of Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, near the CCC building of the Hospital, where our patients, staff and visitors can enjoy it every day.

“You-topia”

Elephant  Outside Lombardi

To create an environment for our elephant, we made “You-topia,” a 15×6 foot mosaic mural that is installed on the wall behind the elephant. Each child received a one-foot square section on which to depict his or her idea about what makes the world a better place. Kids, families and staff members depicted everything from ice cream and basketball to beautiful landscapes and powerful animals.

The center panel, representing a dove, wings outstretched, rising above a rainbow-filled sky, was begun on the anniversary of 9-11. It was designed by our art therapists as a vehicle for patients, staff, and families to contribute to a symbol of hope in the aftermath of tragedy.

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