Philly donkey artists: We got screwed by the DNC Host Committee

Ed Rendell says they’re “dead wrong,” and a short contract lays out specifics.

A representative for artists who painted 57 fiberglass donkeys says the Democratic National Convention Host Committee enticed the artists into sharing profits after their sale at auction, only to later learn the vast majority were given away for free.

“They are just devastated,” Caryn Kunkle, who organized the project, told Billy Penn Thursday. 

But Gov. Ed Rendell, the head of the DNC Host Committee, says she’s “absolutely dead wrong,” and each artist signed a contract stating he or she was aware the donkeys could be gifted.

The DNC Host Committee partnered with ArtJawn.com, owned by Kunkle, and the Mural Arts Program to handle the logistics of locating about 30 artists to paint the donkeys, which were fabricated by Chester-based Roe Fabricators.

Those artists individually signed contracts in March with the DNC Host Committee, stipulating that they were to be paid a $1,000 stipend for designing and painting the donkeys — $500 for the design and $500 after it was completed. At that point, the artists were under the impression all 57 of the fiberglass donkeys would be auctioned off after the convention, and the proceeds would be split 60-40 between the artists and ArtJawn.com.

However, a two-and-half-page contract provided by the Host Committee stipulates that “each donkey replica will become and remain the sole and exclusive property of the Host Committee.” By July 31, the donkeys would be made available to the Democratic Party of the state or territory depicted on the artwork to be transported by that state’s party. If they didn’t want the donkeys, the art would be auctioned off to the public.

Here’s the full contract and an image of the relevant portions of the contract:

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Rendell admitted that he assumed only about 20 of the donkeys would be taken by the states they depicted, but the art ended up being “so wildly popular” that 53 of the 57 donkeys were claimed as of this morning. Only four donkeys — New York, Connecticut, Guam and American Samoa — remain, and will be auctioned off for the benefit of the artists and ArtJawn.com. This week, the artists were notified that it’s likely they won’t be receiving any further payment for their work.

Kunkle says the artists found out during a press conference in April — after they’d already signed their contracts — that the artwork would be offered to the state delegations which only needed to pay for the cost of shipping (which can be in the hundreds of dollars, even for states close to Philadelphia). Those delegations were told they could use the donkeys for fundraising purposes.

Kunkle could not be reached for additional comment by phone on the discrepancy between what she claims the contract said and what the contract provided by the Host Committee stated. She said Thursday though that she’s spent the last several days reading up on Pennsylvania’s art laws regarding intellectual property and is calling the issue a “bait and switch.”

“It’s about promising artists a particular pace of work and then changing it for your benefit to turn that artwork into party favors,” Kunkle said. “Like literally party favors. Like, ‘hey, leave with your door prize. And if you want to take it home and use it for fundraising, be my guest.'”

Rendell said there’s no breach of contract.

“In every public pronouncement made, I made it clear states would have the right to take it home,” he said. “The artists were aware of it from the contract.”

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