GU MEDICAL CENTER Lombardi Art Contributes to D.C. Tourism By Amanda McGrath Hoya Staff Writer

Courtesy Tracy Councill “Elephant Wisdom,” the work of patients and staff at the Lombardi Cancer Center, is currently on display as part of a city-wide tourism initiative.

In an effort to boost tourism in Washington, D.C., the D.C. Commission for the Arts and Humanities is decorating city sidewalks with 200 colorful sculptures of donkeys and elephants. The artistic creations are the work of hundreds of artists, including patients, faculty and staff at Georgetown’s Lombardi Cancer Center. The artwork is one of many attempts to reinvigorate the District’s tourism, which suffered dramatically following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

Tracy Councill, art therapist in the department of pediatrics, was chosen from thousands of applicants to design one of the polyurethane animals that stand about 4.5 feet high and 5 feet long. Councill recruited children, parents, doctors and nurses at Lombardi to make “Elephant Wisdom,” decorated with mosaic tiles bearing the handwritten wishes of its creators.

Councill said she specifically requested an elephant in her proposal to the DCCAH because the children had created a paper mache elephant in an earlier project. “When we were making the elephant we learned that in various traditions elephants are good luck. The kids interpreted this in their own way and started to make wishes on the elephant,” Councill said. “People wished for a whole range of things, everything from `I wish there was no more illness,’ to world peace, winning bingo and other things.”

The Lombardi elephant is currently on display at Ninth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Other animals can be found at various locations. Georgetown’s Healy Gates were considered as a future site for one of the creations. “[Healy Gates] was a possibility but was taken off the list because we need to get certain areas due to sponsorship. We had to vary where the animals were placed to make sure they were proportioned around the city,” Alexandra MacMaster, project manager for the DCCAH said . However, several of the animals will be placed along M Street and at nearby George Washington University.

MacMaster said the project won attention as a way to aid the ailing Washington, tourism industry. “It has been in the works for about two years. After Sept. 11, we got a lot of support from the city,” she said

The industry has rebounded considerably in recent months however. “We’ve definitely come a long way, using hotel occupancy as one indicator. We’ve rebounded quicker than we had anticipated,” Victoria Isley, director of marketing for the Washington Convention and Tourism Corporation said. She noted that hotel occupancy hit a low of 25 percent in the week following the attacks, but reached a high of 92 percent in mid-April. Isley said the averages have been in the 80th percentile – standard for this time of year. Other signs that the Washington tourism industry had rebounded successfully came Thursday, when the Travel Industry Association of America released its seasonal Travelometer survey for the summer, which anticipated a two percent growth in national tourism overall. The survey ranked Washington eighth in a list of destinations travelers said they would like to visit over the summer.

Isley attributed the rapid rebound to initiatives taken by the city. “There’s a tremendous sense of cooperation – many organizations have been working together to invite visitors back to D.C.,” Isley said.

MacMaster said the project was funded primarily through sponsorship from local businesses and restaurants. The animals cost $490,000 to produce, plus an additional $1,200 as an honorarium for each artist; however, MacMaster said she was confident the tourism revenues would outweigh the project’s costs. “We know it will bring in a lot more than we’ve paid out,” she said.

Each of the animals is a distinctive artistic creation. “It’s definitely something to celebrate the arts in the city and just have some fun,” MacMaster said. “It’s a very serious city with all of these politicians, so we’re trying to make light of it all by using the donkeys and the elephants.” The animals have been the traditional symbols of the Democrats and Republicans since the late 1800s, when cartoonist Thomas Nast drew them to mock the political parties.

MacMaster said that a map of the animals’ locations would be made available soon, but has not been finalized because some of the animals will be moved because of some negative responses from businesses. “We have permits [to place the animals] and most people are fine, but there are some people who just don’t understand a project like this,” MacMaster said. “All in all, however, the response has been tremendous. It’s going to be a really great summer.”

Similar exhibits have appeared in other cities, the most famous being the display of cows in Chicago, Ill. MacMaster said the project was winning national attention and was successful in bringing people to Washington. She said she had already met some tourists who had come to the District specifically to see the animals.

The donkeys and elephants will be auctioned off in September and the proceeds will go toward improving the arts in Washington. acMaster said that a similar auction of the Chicago cows raised $3.5 million and said that because so great an interest had been shown in the animals, she expected the Washington auction to raise even greater revenues.

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