Democratic donkeys set stage for election

An arts initiative strives to celebrate national diversity during the DNC.

Barbara Sosson, a Philadelphia-based artist and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts alumna, stands with one of her sculptures outside the Betsy Ross House on 3rd and Arch streets. | ANGELA GERVASI TTN

As an artist, Temple alumna Joy Waldinger aims for sustainability, often using recycled materials to create her works. As the Democratic National Convention approaches, Waldinger encourages others to consider the environment as well.

“We have a responsibility to this planet, to this land, that really needs to be at the forefront of people’s minds,” said Waldinger, who graduated from Tyler with an arts education degree in 2015.

During her time at Temple, Waldinger delved into environmental activism, joining Students for Environmental Action and Temple Community Gardens.

“It was empowering me to use my abilities for a greater purpose, and not just for a selfish desire of wanting fame,” Waldinger said.

Recently, her environmentally-focused art has taken a new form: culminating in two colorful, waist-high, fiberglass donkeys.

Waldinger is one of 28 artists to participate in Donkeys Around Town. The arts initiative was an idea from former Gov. Ed Rendell, who is serving as chair of the DNC Host Committee.

“The host committee wants this to be a great convention for the Democratic Party, but we also want it to be a great convention for the people of Philadelphia,” Rendell said at a press conference in April.

With collaboration between the committee, Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program and a local arts commerce website known as, Donkeys Around Town has scattered 57 painted donkeys around the city.

Each distinctive donkey represents a state or U.S. territory.

Through two donkey sculptures that represented North Dakota and Washington state, Waldinger did not hesitate to promote environmental awareness.

“I include[d] as many natural elements as possible,” Waldinger said. “So that when people look at them, they were kind of inspired by the nature that they saw, to hopefully advocate for sustainable policies for these places.”

The donkeys were placed on sidewalks and street corners at the beginning of this month in preparation for the Democratic National Convention, which will come to Philadelphia July 25.

“To me, it’s the perfectly right place to have [the convention], because of our history,” said Barbara Sosson, another participating artist.

Sosson stood in front of one her donkeys, situated outside the Betsy Ross House located at 3rd and Arch streets. The donkey, a representative of Texas, sported a bold pattern of blue stars, a lightning bolt and the frank reminder, “hey, go vote,” in boxy letters.

The artists received their assignments randomly. Although Sosson had never been to Texas, she had been presented with the task to portray the southwestern state.

“I thought, you know, ‘this is a challenge’,” Sosson said. “However, we had to work with the symbols we were given.”

To accurately represent each state and territory, artists corresponded with delegates around the country. The same political delegates will represent the electoral college in the presidential election this fall. Delegates guided the artists by naming icons they felt symbolized their respective states.

However, artists still possessed a certain amount of creative freedom: using painted eyelashes, Sosson made sure her Texas donkey appeared feminine.

“Hillary is running for president and she is the DNC,” Sosson said. “So, it should be feminine. There are stockings on it!”

Sosson’s second donkey– Iowa– stands at 13th and Locust streets, cloaked in cornfields. To portray Washington state, Waldinger painted apples– a vital fruit in the state’s harvests– onto her donkey’s eyes.

“It’s definitely a weird project,” said Keith Warren Greiman, who graduated from Tyler in 2001 with a degree in illustration.

The alumnus painted Mardis Gras beads onto one donkey’s neck, paying homage to one of Louisiana’s most famous celebrations.

“I can’t say that I’ve ever been asked to paint two giant donkey sculptures before,” he added.

Earlier in July, an organization known as Food & Water Watch placed its own sculptures– faux donkey droppings –under several of the donkeys to protest fracking.

“Tough not to kind of laugh at it,” Greiman said.

“They got their message, they hit the news, but it was nothing that damaged the donkeys,” he added.

While this caused a slight disturbance, Greiman, has been pleasantly surprised by the positive reception Donkeys Around Town has received.

Tourists and residents alike have stopped to observe and photograph the sculptures. Many have engaged in a scavenger hunt that the DNC Host Committee launched on July 20, chasing down the ornamental animals using an app called Scavify. The donkeys will remain on display until Sept. 5.

“At the very least, it seems like a very nice distraction,” Greiman said.  “Politics, they’re not really all fun and smiles, so at least throw a little bit of that in there.”

Angela Gervasi can be reached at

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