By Maria Rachal
Two dozen horses may be trotted out around the city and county in 2017.
Horse statues, that is, painted by local artists to benefit the not-for-profit Virginia Horse Center.
The temporary public art display, to be titled “Horse Mania,” would follow the lead of many cities that have housed similar series of fiberglass animal statues designed to enhance tourism and city pride.
The horses would be auctioned off after roughly six months on display to benefit the horse center, which relies on donations, sponsorships, and horse show revenues, and has struggled to pay off loans that have helped it stay afloat over the years.
Virginia Horse Center Development Consultant Jennifer Donovan said that money raised – which she hopes would reach somewhere in the six-figure range – would help with operational costs and deferred maintenance.
Rebecca Cohen, owner of Sunny Brook Farm and a horse center volunteer, is co-chair of the Horse Mania committee. She said organizers were originally inspired by a series of horses featured in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. in 2002 and 2007.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” she said.
She said the center hopes the project gains enough sponsors to fund at least 20 horses. Each horse will require a roughly $3,000 sponsorship to cover production and installation, as well as costs from associated materials like specially-marked tourism maps.
Horse Mania had a “soft launch” at the Arts of Lexington Block Party on Oct. 7, which Cohen said generated clear enthusiasm for the project.
“We’ll certainly work with the local artist guilds and galleries to make sure that when we do send the call to artists, that we’re pretty comprehensive in our outreach,” she said.
She added that a professional selection committee will review each of the designs submitted.
Such projects have been popular since a series of cows made their debut in Zurich in 1998. This gave way to the establishment of “CowParade,” an international organization now based in Connecticut, which has repeated the cow concept in over 50 cities worldwide.
Cows made their American debut in Chicago in 1999 and brought in an additional $200 million in tourism revenue for the city, according to the New York Times.
Beyond cows, Anchorage has featured grizzly bears, Memphis has been covered in tigers, and Orlando has been home to geckos, just to name a few.
Mark Cline, owner of Enchanted Castle Studios and creator of Foamhenge, Dinosaurland, and other local attractions such as Lexington’s Ghost Tour, has been tapped to produce the horses. He has experience with the animal statue phenomenon, having previously created a set of 35 rabbit statues for a “Grand Rabbits” display in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2000.
So far, Cline has created a horse mold and single prototype, which has secured a sponsorship from an individual at Serendipity Farm in Fairfield. But he won’t manufacture more until all horses are spoken for.
He said that while much of his work is contracted by cities and companies across the country, in this instance, the proximity of manufacturer to organizers is ideal.
“Fortunately for them I’m close by, because a lot of companies have to ship them in from different places,” he said. “The big benefit there is I can work very closely with these people who are just down the road.”
And he always enjoys being involved in projects that serve people in the Rockbridge area.
“I want to improve the quality of life of my neighbors; you do that by becoming part of the community, for them, with them,” he said.
Cohen said members of the committee have met with representatives from Main Street Lexington, the Chamber of Commerce, the Lexington City Council, and the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors to float the idea and ask for promotional support. Organizers intend for the art to have a broad reach, with hopes of mounting the horses throughout downtown and Rockbridge County, and perhaps even in southern Augusta County.
Sponsorship opportunity packets were completed on Wednesday, and organizers hope to have all sponsors finalized by the end of November. Donovan said that though the horse center has not yet begun the official solicitation process, organizers have already been approached by seven or eight people who want to sponsor a horse.
The committee’s goal is to have the horses on public display by late spring or early summer.
Donovan, who was brought on staff at the beginning of 2016, said that the center seems to have been on an upward trajectory since John Nicholson was named CEO of the center in 2015. The center has completed a first-ever strategic plan and a 10-year budget projection. A master plan for its 600 acres is in the works.
“Even though we’re 30 years old, in a lot of ways we’re a start-up … with a completely new management team, a lot of new board members, and a new vision for financial sustainability for the future,” she said.
Most of all, she said horse center supporters are excited about the unlimited potential of the colorful new endeavor.
“We’re so excited about Horse Mania because it’s revolving around partnerships and bringing together businesses, individuals, and art,” she said. “In a way we feel like this is an opportunity to cross-pollinate and really engage with equestrian enthusiasts but also non-equestrians, even non-horse people.”