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    Turtles to pop up for art, charity

    Inspired by a cow fundraiser in Chicago, officials at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium are turning to turtles - whimsical, bigger-than-life, fiberglass turtles.

    [Times photo: Scott Keeler]
    Vicki Casella, left, and Jay Yahnke work on a loggerhead turtle made of polyurethane foam and fiberglass Thursday at Sarasota's Resource Factory.

    By LISA GREENE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 12, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- Out in the ocean, sea turtles are all too rare.

    But on land, turtles soon will be multiplying across the Tampa Bay area.

    Not any average turtles. These will be 6 feet long, bigger-than-life fiberglass turtles, painted and decorated down to the last flipper. They will be displayed and then, next year, auctioned for charity.

    At Clearwater Marine Aquarium, officials are looking for enough sponsors to make Tampa Bay tipsy with at least 300 turtles.

    The project is inspired by a similar 1999 exhibit of 300 cows in Chicago. Since then, other U.S. cities have gotten in on the act: pigs in Cincinnati, fish in New Orleans, and more cows in New York.

    In Florida, dolphins parade through the Florida Keys, Miami is working with flamingos and Orlando has claimed geckos.

    "It's art, but it's fun," said Jay Goulde, director of the turtle project for the aquarium. "When I saw the cows in Chicago, I thought, "What a good thing for the community.' "

    Goulde was working for a Tampa advertising agency when he visited Chicago, which borrowed its cow idea from a cow display in Zurich, Switzerland. He returned to Tampa, began working on starting a similar project here, and eventually took a leave of absence from his ad job to direct the turtle tour for the aquarium.

    Dennis Kellenberger, the aquarium's executive director, said the facility sees the exhibit as a win for everyone.

    "It promotes the arts and educates people about an endangered species," he said. "Plus there's the opportunity for fundraising."

    The turtles will be modeled on a loggerhead sea turtle who lives at the aquarium. Turtles will begin popping up around Tampa Bay in September and be displayed in "nesting areas" in malls, stores, parks and other areas until March 2002. They will be auctioned in April 2002.

    The aquarium has signed up more than 20 sponsors, a Sarasota manufacturer has started making the turtles and artists have submitted dozens of designs.

    The designs so far include football turtles and kayaking turtles, ice cream sundae turtles and airplane turtles. Turtles covered with flowers and flamingos, children and checkerboards. Planet turtle. Twilight turtle. Sunset turtle and even sumo turtle.

    Some turtles will be painted, but Goulde said artists have talked about turtles covered with tiles, decoupage, or lights, turtles mounted on metal structures, even turtles that swim.

    Sponsors pay $3,700 for each turtle. Of that amount, $1,000 goes to the artist, $1,400 pays for the turtle model, and $1,300 pays for insurance and other expenses.

    At the auction, 60 percent of the proceeds will go to the charity chosen by the turtle's sponsor, 25 percent will go to the Clearwater aquarium and 15 percent will go to the auctioneer.

    More than $5-million was raised for charity in Zurich and Chicago, says the group that organized those two exhibits.

    Sponsors will get to choose the turtle designs, Goulde said. Several local artists have submitted designs, but Goulde said he also has contacted some nationally recognized artists and hopes some churches and schools will take part as well.

    Once the exhibit is over, the aquarium plans one final benefit. It plans to use the concrete blocks that the turtles will be mounted on to create an artificial reef off Clearwater.

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