Photo illustration by Ben Hillyer
Photo illustration by Ben Hillyer / Logo by Tim Givens.

Archived Story

Fat Mama’s creates art project to celebrate birthday

Published 12:08am Sunday, October 13, 2013

NATCHEZ — Fat Mama’s Tamales is turning 25 next year, and owner David Gammill wanted to celebrate with more than just 25 candles on a cake.

“Yeah Fat Mama’s is turning 25, but we wanted to do something besides a one-day celebration and have more value,” Gammill said. “It’s been an eventful 25 years, and we wanted to celebrate in a unique way for our community.”

The restaurant owner decided an art project — with a Fat Mama’s twist — that would benefit the City of Natchez was a perfect way to celebrate its anniversary, as well as provide the city with creativity and inspiration.

The project, appropriately titled “25 Donkey,” seeks to find artists to paint and decorate 25 fiberglass sculptures of donkeys, which will then be scattered throughout the city for public display.

Submitted Photo — Fat Mama’s Tamales hopes to raise enough funds through an online fundraising program to decorate and display 25 donkeys — like this  one painted for a Jasper, Ala., art project — around town.
Submitted Photo — Fat Mama’s Tamales hopes to raise enough funds through an online fundraising program to decorate and display 25 donkeys — like this one painted for a Jasper, Ala., art project — around town.

The donkeys, which are 55 inches long and 40 inches tall, will be distributed to 25 artists in the area or those who have a connection to Natchez.

The artists will uniquely decorate their donkey and return them to eventually be displayed for three months.

“I had seen other communities do painted sculptures of animals, and we just kind of started talking about having painted donkeys because our logo since the beginning has been Fat Mama on a struggling donkey,” Gammill said. “We started putting some numbers down and quickly realized it was going to be an expensive project.”

After exploring all the details of the project with members of the Krewe of Fat Mama’s, Gammill turned to an online company called Kickstarter in hopes of funding the project.

Kickstarter is a website that provides tools to raise funds for creative projects through crowd funding. Project creators set a funding goal and deadline, and people can choose to pledge money toward the project in exchange for a tangible reward, such as a T-shirt or other item associated with the project.

Since Kickstarter’s launch in 2009, 5 million people have pledged $823 million, funding 49,000 creative projects, according to the company’s website.

“I had always wanted to do something with Kickstarter, and when we realized we would need $40,000 for this project, I said, well, maybe we could use that crowd to fund the project,” Gammill said. “The great thing about it is that it will appeal locally, but those who have visited Natchez in the region can also help fund the project.”

Gammill created a page on the website for the donkey project including a video explaining the project, as well as details on how to get involved with pledging.

The project includes different tiers of pledge funding from $1 or more, which will get the person’s name painted on one of the donkeys, to the maximum $10,000 pledge, which includes an extended weekend stay at a local bed and breakfast and a permanent plaque displayed at the restaurant, among other rewards.

Reaching the project’s goal of $40,000 by Nov. 28 is vital, Gammill said, because all Kickstarter projects are all-or-nothing, meaning projects must reach their funding goals to receive any money.

“If we’re a dollar short on Nov. 28, all the pledges are canceled,” Gammill said. “This is something that will help celebrate our 25 years, but will also help keep Natchez’s culture going, and it’s something that’s never been done before.

“It’s one of the larger projects ever done in Mississippi on Kickstarter.”

If the project receives all its funding, Gammill said the donkeys would be ordered the following day and distributed to the artists.

Applications will be available for artists wishing to express their creativity on a donkey — with a few stipulations.

Whatever is painted on the donkey, Gammill said, can’t be considered too offensive for public display and must be painted so it can withstand 90 days of exposure to the elements.

“We haven’t picked out the specific locations yet, but the city has been very supportive of providing the locations, and we’re hoping some businesses will offer locations as well,” Gammill said. “We’d love to have one at a park, one at City Hall, one at this business and even let all the art departments from the local high schools do one to inspire their students.”

At the end of the three-month display period, Gammill said the majority of the donkeys will be auctioned off locally with proceeds being donated to the Natchez Tricentennial Commission, which is working to plan the city’s 300th birthday.

“The main goal of the krewe is to make Natchez and Adams County better, and we feel like art in the community is something that benefits everyone,” Gammill said. “It’s been an eventful 25 years from going to something that was my parents’ kind of weekend side-gig to becoming what we feel like is a big part of coming to Natchez.

“Helping Natchez be unique while celebrating 25 years is what we’re hoping to do.”

For more information about the project or to make a pledge, visit kickstarter.com and search “25 Donkey.”