Some artists bray they’re shortchanged on DNC donkey project

Hawk Krall works on painting New Jersey and New Hampshire DNC donkeys. Many artists are upset that the donkeys were given away

Hawk Krall works on painting New Jersey and New Hampshire DNC donkeys. Many artists are upset that the donkeys were given away

In the wake of the Democratic National Convention, the donkeys are still lingering.

The DNC host committee commissioned 57 fiberglass donkeys to be painted by local artists, each donkey representing a state or territory delegation. Those statues will remain on Philadelphia streets until the end of August. Some of those artists say they were short-changed. 

When artists responded to a call last year to paint donkeys for the DNC, they were told they would be paid $1,000 up front, with more money once the donkeys were sold at auction. The contract they ultimately signed, in April and May, had added language that the delegates would have the option to take the donkeys home with them, without paying artists additional money.

Originally, the host committee established a cut-off date of July 31 for delegates to claim their donkey, the remaining to be sold. That deadline has been extended to accommodate delegates.

“There has been a couple moving parts,” said spokesperson Anna Adams-Sarthou. “Some organizations are figuring out how to get them shipped and how they are going to pay for it. Our hard and fast deadline is really when we take the donkeys off the street, beginning on August 23rd.”

The donkey’s were surprisingly popular. Only four are unclaimed, with three more weeks remaining. It is unlikely the artists will see much — if any — auction proceeds.

In an email to — the company hired to coordinate the artists — the host committee insisted the artists have no rights to the donkeys they created: “The donkeys belong to the host committee. We can dump them in the river on August 5th if we want.”

One of the sticky points among artists is how the burros will be used once the delegates take them home. They could be used for fundraising purposes; they may never again be exhibited publicly.

“My name is associated with the donkey. It’s on a plaque with the donkey,” said Lynette Shelley, who painted the Oklahoma and Missouri mules. “I would like to know exactly what it’s going to be used for.”

Illustrator Hawk Krall, who painted the ones for New Jersey and New Hampshire, said normally his professional contracts stipulate that he, as the artist, retains intellectual property rights. The DNC contract did not.

“They don’t take into account ownership of the individual pieces, and ownership of the copyright — or usage rights of the imagery,” said Krall. “The DNC just has a blanket that they own everything.”

Pennsylvania law allows artist limited rights to their work after it is sold. Called “moral rights,” it gives artists some claim to how their work can be used. Pennsylvania is one of the few states in the country to have such laws.

However, the Pennsylvania law will not apply once the donkeys are distributed to delegates’ home states.

Although they had issues with the vague language in the contract, many artists signed on, anyway, because it was a really cool project, and a very public one.

“Regardless of whatever circus is going to surround it, I think it was great it was out there. We had a really good group of artists, ” said Krall. “Hopefully future projects like this will give more respect to artists.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal