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So this is PandaMania: Scores of artists, sponsors, and invited guests mingling, sipping drinks, and noshing on pasta under dozens of colorful helium-filled balloons inside Southwest’s Waterside Mall on May 8. Vendors hawking touristy T-shirts and hats, too. And, of course, District officials waxing poetic about the importance of oddly decorated panda statues.

On the mike, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH) Executive Director Tony Gittens suggests that seeing customized examples of Ailuropoda melanoleuca on the streets of D.C. is sure to put a “bounce in your step” and spark “deep analytical conversations about the nature of art.”

“They really are a sign,” adds Mayor Anthony A. Williams, “of where our city is.”

How true: The District, it seems, can’t even pay for a panda properly.

Back in January, the DCCAH issued a call to artists seeking decorative designs for 150 life-size panda sculptures scheduled to be exhibited at various locations in the District this spring and summer. The commission unabashedly seeks to repeat the “hugely successful” fundraising approach of its 2002 Party Animals campaign, which featured painted donkeys and elephants and netted more than $1 million for artist-grant and arts-education funding.

“Artists chosen will sign a contract,” the official PandaMania application packet reads, “and will then be awarded a $1,500 honorarium per selected proposal to creatively administer their design on the blank sculpture.”

The artists, at least, have lived up to their end of the bargain. For weeks, they’ve been painting, sculpting, and otherwise decorating their polyurethane pandas, many of them bearing the initial cost of improvements themselves. All the while, they’ve been waiting for their checks. And waiting, and waiting…

“It’s a bit straining,” says D.C. artist Maggie O’Neill, whose buxom blond beach bear, Pandela Anderson, required about $600 for a new hairdo, nose job, and breast enhancement. “That’s cheap for breasts,” O’Neill points out. But even so, she says, “I haven’t been able to pay the bills for that yet.”

O’Neill says she was told to expect an initial check for $750 about three weeks after signing up for the project, on April 1, and another $750 upon completing her panda. Pandela is now fully sexualized and ready to wow the crowd at Cafe Milano in Georgetown. O’Neill hasn’t seen a dime from the DCCAH.

“The thing that’s frustrating,” says fellow peeved panda painter and Annandale, Va., resident Allan Gow, “is how they’re kind of supporting the whole starving-artist syndrome.” Gow also fronted several hundred dollars for his statue, The Wright Panda, which features a bear sitting in a steel-and-aluminum glider. “Obviously, many people may not do this to make money,” he says, “but there is a bit of expense involved. And a deal’s a deal. We were promised installment payments during the process and I…have received nothing, nor any communication about the stipend.”

Confronted about the lack of payment during the May 8 event, DCCAH officials are unable to offer a good explanation. Project manager Alexandra MacMaster acknowledges that artists’ checks have been “slow” in coming. A separate city agency, she says, is responsible for cutting them. Besides, she says, payment can take four to six weeks from the time an artist starts work: “Some people have received their checks, and then some people haven’t.”

“Each artist will be given a $1,500 stipend,” Gittens confirms at the PandaMania gala.

But why’s it taking so long?

Gittens becomes evasive: “Are you going to be annoying this whole time?”

Asked again about the missing money, Gittens tries to change the subject: “Where did you go to school…? What brought you to Washington?”

Confronted once more, Gittens responds, “I’ll talk to you later,” turns, and walks away in a rather bearlike huff.

DOWN AT THE HEELS

Two years ago, CornerViews Gallery—also known as the display windows in the former Hahn Shoes store at 14th and G Streets NW—was seen as a success story. What had been a shabby, empty storefront was transformed into a vibrant art space. From June 2002 through May 2003, the window-shoppers’ gallery hosted five exhibitions, featuring 75 pieces of artwork by 45 artists.

The Washington Business Journal reported in June 2002 that CornerViews artists had sold about $10,000 worth of their work and that the building’s owners, too, were benefiting from a “space that looked occupied.” But 11 months later, the artwork disappeared.

Since then, the windows have displayed only sheets of white paper reading, “Exhibitions Temporarily Suspended”—well, those and a sticker of “The Holy Face of Jesus,” in addition to some spray paint that seems to spell out, “ARIER.” Oh, and a bit of red lettering that informs passers-by that this re-abandoned storefront is “Sponsored by Washington Project for the ArtsCorcoran and Cultural Development Corp.”

WPAC Executive Director Annie Adjchavanich has long attributed the program’s cancellation to a leaky ceiling. Last summer, she told the Washington Post that repairs were forthcoming and that the artwork would soon return. But nearly a year later, neither has happened.

“We haven’t gotten that resolved with the building owner,” says Adjchavanich. “We’d like to continue to do shows there, but, you know, we can’t put anybody’s artwork in jeopardy. I don’t want to run the risk of anything getting damaged.”

Perhaps that’s because the building’s owner, the Armenian Assembly of America, has other plans for the space. As early as 2008, the site is slated to house the Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial, says Rouben Adalian, the group’s director of research. The artwork, he says, will not be returning.

The loss of CornerViews is just another episode in an unfortunate trend for the WPAC. Similar exhibition programs at Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe & Grill in Dupont Circle and Twist Restaurant in Georgetown have also been discontinued. And if you click on “WPAC Exhibitions” on the organization’s Web site, “None at this time” pops up. “We’ve had to cut back on programming,” Adjchavanich admits.

With an annual budget of less than $200,000 and no gallery space of its own, the nonprofit has relied on developers, business owners, and other supporters to help it make good on a major component of its mission statement: “to promote excellence in contemporary art in the region by presenting experimental exhibitions and performances.” Given these constraints, Adjchavanich and her advisory board recently decided to switch gears. “We’ve just sort of refocused,” says Jennifer Motruk Loy, the board’s vice chair.

The group is now shifting its energies away from “experimental exhibitions,” which are a great way to “involv[e] artists in educational programs that benefit local residents” but a lousy way to make money. Instead, it’s concentrating on artistic ventures that actually generate income, including its annual art auction and gala, its “Anonymous” art sale and fundraiser, and its second annual WPAC artist directory, designed to connect artists to gallerists and other potential benefactors.

It’s also raising its prices: Basic annual membership dues, which give cash-strapped creative types discounts at Utrecht Art Supply and Capital Art and Framing as well as free admission to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, will be increasing from $35 to $45. And that 2004–2005 directory, issued just last week, costs more than the previous one, too, up from $20 to $25. Hmmm…By putting the squeeze on those who most need its services, the WPAC might complete one part of its mission after all: “stimulating dialogue between emerging and established artists.”

ANOTHER’S 48 HOURS

The District’s own 48 Hour Film Project, now in its fourth year, was conceived on a supposedly well-timed idea: teams of filmmakers furiously competing to write, shoot, and edit the best short film over a period of just 48 hours.

Make that: 48 hours and 36 minutes. No, 51 minutes. OK:

59 minutes, tops.

You see, some filmmakers get more time than others.

On May 7, representatives of the 59 teams participating in this year’s orgy of hasty moviemaking have gathered at the Warehouse Theater on 7th Street NW. At 6:30 p.m., team reps are already lined up to pick from a black plastic hat the type of film they will produce.

Though the official clock doesn’t start until 7 p.m., when organizers announce three additional mandatory movie components—one prop, one character, and one line of dialogue, which all teams have in common—most filmmakers get started as soon as they pick their genre, ringing up off-site scriptwriters to give them the skinny.

“You wanna hear it live?” participant Steve Byers says into his phone at 6:36 p.m., just before selecting the “spy” genre for his team, Witness This.

Buddhafied Monks are the last in line to draw, at 6:54 p.m. By that time, Kennedy Offline scriptwriters Asher Novak and Tamir Kalifa had already figured out the title for their superhero flick, Bunnyman, and settled on a shooting location.

“There is an advantage,” admits Erik Swanson, team leader for the Boston-based RevnoManiacs, which is filming its comedy on location in Delaware.

Organizers of the event argue that the time gap doesn’t directly make or break a team’s qualifying for the big 48 Hour Film Project prize: the “Best of the City” trophy. Event co-producer Liz Langston says any number of other things can go wrong to prevent a film from reaching the drop-off site by the 7:30 p.m deadline on May 9, which allows a half-hour of travel time. “The thing that’s gonna make a difference,” she says, “is if their car crashes, or they get stuck in traffic, or they can’t figure out how to export their film from computer to tape.”

Still, an extra five minutes is all one of the 13 teams that will fail to qualify this year end up needing. But Dobler’s Pen Productions’ tape arrives at the Warehouse too late, at 7:35 p.m. Director Matt Mickelson, toeing the 48 Hour party line, refuses to blame his team’s later genre-selection time of 6:48 p.m. Instead, he cites technical difficulties and traffic on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway—and on choosing Towson, Md., as a filming location.

“Next time,” he says, pointing to a building just one block away from the drop-off point, “we’re shooting at Atlantic Video.”—Chris Shott

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