Elephant Parade exhibit on display at Lantern Bay Park through Saturday
By Andrea Papagianis
A herd of Asian elephant statues will soon depart Dana Point for foreign and domestic soils as the Elephant Parade’s first American exhibit comes to a close.
The open-air exhibition benefitting The Asian Elephant Foundation has called Dana Point’s streets, parks, docks and hotels home since August. Now, the 38 colorful elephant statues, created by local and international artists for the parade’s American unveiling, are gathered at Lantern Bay Park, at 25111 Park Lantern, through November 16 for a final community farewell.
“This is the most beautiful backdrop we have ever had for Elephant Parade, and the public and people here are ecstatic,” said Mike Spits, co-founder of the foundation. “They really love the elephants.”
The foundation traces its roots to an elephant hospital in Thailand, where Spits’ father and co-founder Marc Spits met Mosha, an injured Asian elephant, while traveling the countryside.
The young elephant, whose name means star in the tribal Karen language, lost a portion of her leg after stepping on a landmine and needing surgery, along with a prosthetic leg, to survive.
Spits and his father formed The Asian Elephant Foundation in 2006, and through its marquee fundraising event, the Elephant Parade, the foundation is able to highlight the endangered Asian elephant’s plight through artwork and advocacy.
Elephant Parade exhibits—from the first in Rotterdam, Netherlands, where Mike lives—and auctions worldwide have raised more than $6 million to date for those like Mosha, who, according to Mike, is handicapped but is a thriving and happy elephant.
The exhibit’s American journey began nearly four years ago when U.S. Ambassador to the Elephant Parade, local resident Dana Alan Yarger, began booking artists to participate in international events. With the backing of the resorts of Dana Point that make up the city’s Tourism Business Improvement District—the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort; The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel; Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa and DoubleTree Suites Doheny Beach—Yarger approached Spits about leading the parade’s American introduction.
The city of Dana Point signed on, and for the last 10 weeks, dozens of 5-foot-tall baby Asian elephant statues have been displayed throughout town. On Friday, November 15, the city will host a candlelight tribute at Lantern Bay Park at 5 p.m. led by city Councilman Scott Schoeffel.
The following day, many parade artists and environmental conservationists will be onsite giving talks and leading creative activities. Yarger will also be on hand leading elephant tours, explaining how the artwork came about, the Elephant Parade’s mission and the metaphors behind what artists were trying to achieve.
“I think this will really give value to the elephants not only as it relates to financial values, but also value as it relates to the cause of saving the Asian elephant,” Yarger said.
And the Elephant Goes to …
On Sunday, November 17, about 20 elephant statues will be auctioned off at the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort and Spa. Organizers are currently taking pre-bid offers at a minimum of $3,000, which includes two tickets to the charity auction. Tickets to the event are $175 per person and $300 for couples. To reserve a seat, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Historically elephant sales average between $13,000 and $15,000, Spits said. On the high end, elephants can go for upwards of $200,000, like Scottish artist Jack Vettriano’s “The Singing Butler Rides Again” from the 2010 parade in London. Vettriano’s elephant featured a sculpture of an umbrella wielding English butler, made famous in his painting titled “The Singing Butler,” which pictures a couple dancing on a beach along the Scottish coastline.
No matter the cost, Spits said he hopes each elephant in Dana Point finds a home where they will be presented as the unique pieces they are.
“We have some elephants here that are absolute magnificent pieces of art,” Spits said. “I don’t dare to say that I have a favorite, but if you look at the elephant by Dustin Otterbach, “Jack,” the cargo elephant, it is an absolute masterpiece, and I think one of the most beautiful, most exquisite pieces that has ever been created for Elephant Parade.”