Let Slip the Dogs of Charity

Gromit has been unleashed upon Bristol.

Eighty giant statues of the canine half of Wallace and Gromit have decided to have a grand day out, slipped the leash and wandered onto the streets.  They came by way of a painting workshop where they were all decorated in fun (and sometimes bizarre) ways.

The question of course is “Why, dog, why?”

Why, Dog, Why? St Nicholas Market, Corn Street
Why, Dog, Why?
St Nicholas Market, Corn Street

The Gromits are serving a dual purpose – they are artwork, designed to get people to explore Bristol and the surrounding area, and they are a charity fundraising attempt.  There’s been a rash of these in the past few years.  There were pigs in Bath, then Lions, then Bristol had Gorillas, Wells had Swans, and now Bristol has Gromits.  And that’s only the ones within 20 miles of Bristol.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel Clifton Suspension Bridge
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Clifton Suspension Bridge

Giant animal statues have a (not very) long and (for the most part) happy history.  Milton Keynes has had Concrete Cows since 1978 when they were created by the artist in residence, Liz Leyh.

Isambark Kingdog Brunel Temple Meads
Isambark Kingdog Brunel
Temple Meads

The Cows are simply artwork.  The more recent incarnations are fundraising devices.  Donated by local businesses, after the exhibition is over they are auctioned off to raise cash.  The first charity installation was in Zurich in 1986 – Lions, the symbol of the city, were painted and then displayed.  From 1998 the idea really caught on, with “CowParades” popping up in various cities around the world, everywhere from Cape Town to Taipei, from New York to Buenos Aires, with plenty of other stops along the way.  The first instance in the UK was in 2008, with Bath Pigs, Liverpool Superlambananas and Norwich Elephants all popping up.

Are they worth it?

How is the worth of something measured?

Certainly I’ve had a lot of fun “Gromiting” in the past couple of days.  I want to know what they look like.  Sure, I could probably, by now, find someone who has been to them all and posted photos on line, but I’m enjoying wandering around in my lunch hour seeing what I can spot.  By that measure they are probably worth it.

There will probably be a small health benefit for people who go walking to find them.  Even if some of them are not within walking distance for most people.

Golden Gromit Victoria Rooms, Queens Road
Golden Gromit
Victoria Rooms, Queens Road

Most people, I fear, will measure their worth in monetary terms.  Specifically, how much money will the exhibition raise for charity?  Past exhibitions have raised amounts ranging from £65k for the Bath Lions to £427k for the Bristol Gorillas.  It’s notable that the exhibitions raising money for “local charities” have raised much less money than those for specific things, such as Gorilla conservation projects (no prizes for guessing which exhibition that was).

This year’s Gromit Unleashed exhibition is in aid of Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Appeal – raising money for the children’s hospital.  I anticipate an appropriately large result.

This year there is an additional income stream – the “Detect-O-Gromit” app (iphone/android) costs 69p, 40p of which will go to the Grand Appeal.  The app promises behind the scenes videos and information as well as locations of the Gromits, a leader board for those who want to check in at as many Gromits as possible, and a “Gromit of the Day” challenge.  It will definitely appeal to those who like playing with their phones and want to be able to say they have given to charity without putting out any effort (too cynical?).  I’m awaiting with interest the sales figures.

A Mandrill's Best Friend Bristol Zoo
A Mandrill’s Best Friend
Bristol Zoo

We’re also harnessing the power of Girlguiding, this year.  There is a special Gromit Unleashed badge which members of all sections can work towards.  The profits are going to the Grand Appeal, and one of the clauses of the badge involves raising money for the charity.  Who doesn’t love a good challenge badge?

However, there is a further monetary benefit, which can’t be measured precisely.  What about the economic impact on the city they are in?  How many visitors go specifically to find them and spend money while they’re there?  What about the cost to the companies that donate them?  Or the benefit, from having their name linked with public art?

The artwork is fun, raises awareness, and raises money – overall, I’d say it’s worth it.

Newshound City Museum and Art Gallery
Newshound
City Museum and Art Gallery
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