Artists kick up a fuss over DNC donkeys, dollars

Barbara Sosson touching up "Iowa," one of the 57 fiberglass "Donkeys Around Town" DNC installation.

"Caryn Kunkle is off the deep end," sighed former Gov. Ed Rendell, head of the Democratic National Convention host committee. He was reacting to accusations by Kunkle, CEO of the arts advocacy site ArtJawn.com, that the artists who painted the DNC donkeys were misled in their contracts.

Fifty-seven fiberglass donkeys have romped around Philadelphia since July 1, each representing a state or territory. The initiative, Rendell's brainchild, was funded by the host committee. ArtJawn and the Mural Arts Program sorted through applications.

On Wednesday, Rendell announced that only four of the donkeys remained, with the rest claimed by their delegations. The remaining sculptures will be auctioned off on ArtJawn.com; 60 percent of profits will be shared among the artists, with the rest going to ArtJawn. But four donkeys isn't very many, and some artists were hoping for more of a payday.

On Thursday, Kunkle sent an email to the media, copying all artists who worked on the project. According to Kunkle, participants understood that all the donkeys would be sold for profit, and that they would receive cuts on top of the $1,000 each was paid for 60 to 80 hours of labor.

"The 28 artists are furious that their artwork is essentially being hijacked and used for purposes which it was not intended for," she wrote. "The artist contract does not touch upon 'gifting.' "

The contract, devised by the host committee and distributed twice to all participants - during orientations and via email - states that "each decorated donkey replica will become and remain the sole and exclusive property of the Host Committee; except that, on or after July 31, 2016, each replica will be made available to the State or Territorial Democratic Party of the State or Territory reflected in the replica."

Joan Reilly, COO of Mural Arts and self-proclaimed "donkey mother," said that "the rules of engagement on this have been clear from the start. This is a project that was done with a lot of love, and commitment, and talent, and some level of compensation. But nobody was getting rich off of this operation."

Reilly mentioned that she had heard delegates talking about displaying the donkeys at statehouses or in public places. Lynnette Shelley, who created the artworks for Missouri and Oklahoma, has heard differently: "They're saving them for future fund-raising events is what they said. So that basically means they're going into storage. I think that's kind of lame."

Shelley did not like the thought of her work at fund-raisers she might not support. "I should know what it's being used for," she said. She acknowledged she had only skimmed the contract, which cedes intellectual property and copyright to the host committee.

Jeleata Nicole, who made the West Virginia and South Carolina donkeys, said she was honored to have been "a part of history." But as a mother of three and a "starving artist," she said, she did have qualms with how the committee handled her sculptures' fate: "The way everything unfolded, it was hurtful."

Rendell apologized for not generating more money for the artists. He added that he has denied many requests for donkeys. "Whatever donkeys were not claimed," he said, "I want ArtJawn to auction them off, and I want the artists to get that money."

javillarreal@philly.com

@allyevillarreal