Dana Point’s Cowabunga! Art Show Has Strangers Talking to Each Other Over Cows

With flags getting lowered to half-mast as soon as they get raised back up to full staff, it’s a boon to encounter a vividly painted cow sculpture outside your favorite beach grill. Actual strangers are having conversations while taking selfies with the colorful bovines that belong to an installation of public art called Cowabunga! in Dana Point. The GOT MILK? people have brought their marketing savvy to a campaign called Milk Loves Art, a mashup of commerce, tourism, artistic collaborations and philanthropy that will benefit kids with cancer by sending them to Ronald McDonald Camp for Good Times near Lake Hemet. 

California Milk Processor Board, the organization behind Milk Loves Art, tapped George Yepes to curate the transformation of the 32 blank heifers around the theme of California’s rich cultural heritage. Yepes, a renowned muralist and painter, is adept at using paint to transform objects other than canvas or stucco: He created Yepes Signature Custom Guitars with Gibson and Epiphone. For Cowabunga!, Yepes worked on several of the pieces, including a collaboration with Jaleel White (the Jaleel White!), Maria Kane, Gene Ortega and Ben Morales on Kobe Beef, which you can find outside Still Water Spirits & Sound with a blue—not black—mamba coiling on its head. 
The artists stick to paint; only Sonya Fe’s Olla alters the surface of her blank cow by the addition of a rose in the mouth and a cowbell around the neck. Check out her Facebook page for pics of her cow-in-progress from white template to ringing bell. 

California’s cultural heritage of graffiti is represented by Man One Art, though I wonder if there will be some actual tagging added to the cow over the summer.  The Golden Bear decorates the cow at the Nature Interpretative Center at the Headlands Nature Trail, but most of the herd is placed along Del Prado in the fancy new Lantern District, a zone Dana Point is transforming in a way the Mouse House would approve. The city council is no doubt happy to see pedestrians enjoy the art rather than the campaign signs that plastered the town, reminding them of their loss on Measure H. 

These life-sized bovines have charm, but they are not quite filling the footsteps left in town by the Elephant Parade, a philanthropic art project from 2013 that clearly inspired Cowabunga! Those newborn-sized elephants arrived in Dana Point with tremendous hoopla as the first city in the U.S. to host the international Asian Elephant Foundation project. The pachyderm auction raised more than $220,000 to save Asian elephants, with Laguna Beach artist Dustin Otterbach’s Jack, a reclaimed-metal WWII bomber of an elephant, selling for a whopping $100,000. You can still see a couple of the baby elephant sculptures around Dana Point, including Corn by Natchai Posrila, a squatting rendition being regarded by a stone dalmatian in front of Fire Station 30 at Stonehill Drive and Niguel Road. 

Dana Point resident Dana Yarger was instrumental in bringing both herds to the city. And he is not stopping anytime soon, he’s working on bringing wild horses to San Juan and hoping to see art cows throughout the state. “Art in the street brings curiosity,” he says, “and gives us a chance to inspire.”

After the Cowabunga! cows are auctioned so that lots of kids get a break from fighting cancer to enjoy some camp time, what species will next adorn the sidewalks of Dana Point until they, too, are sold off for a good cause? Here’s hoping for a monkey circus. . . .

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