The $600,000 Toad-Riding Faerie

posted at 11:00 am on April 23, 2011 by J.E. Dyer

OK, technically, I think it was a $200,000 toad-riding faerie.  I guess the real question is which of the US Army’s recent slogans this public art project, intended to “enhance the aesthetics” at a bus depot in Alexandria, Virginia, was meant to evoke.

“Be all you can be!”

“An Army of One.”

“Army Strong.”

I have to be honest here.  I don’t think the silliest thing about this is that the project was going to cost $600,000, before Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) stepped in and asked for some, er, clarification.

I agree with Grassley, of course:

The Army was ready to spend $600,000 on three pieces of questionable art, just when the country is up to its eyeballs in red ink. With a national debt of more than $14 trillion, we’ve got to make sure spending is in line with the national interest.

Yep.  What he said.

But I can imagine why the Army was trying to spend money this way, just as all government agencies come up with “good ideas” and try to spend money that’s been deposited in their accounts.  The “good ideas” factory churns out its product 24/7, independent of funding or specific direction.  It gets help – often – from bureaucratic inertia.  A directive from years ago, to “interact in interesting, compelling ways with the public to enhance the Army’s image,” is executed in “bureaucratic years,” meaning that the original purpose looks idiotic by the time something actually happens.

And never forget that this year’s funds get spent, period.  It would be lovely if they didn’t, but the first law of government funding is, if you don’t spend it this year you won’t see it next year.

So I get the process that led to this interesting interlude.  What I don’t get is how a sculpture of a faerie riding a toad – a toad burbling brown stuff – became a finalist in the Army-funded public art sweepstakes.  I mean, a group of children, maybe.  Or a soldier surrounded by children.  A soldier and civilian standing shoulder to shoulder, I don’t know.  Something that doesn’t look like the Army’s channeling the Pre-Raphaelite poets or the wonderful world of wall-art stickers.

It might have been useful for Army decision-makers to consider the checkered history of the military’s involvement with public art projects.  In the 1930s tale recounted by Time, the warriors of West Point ended up with some marvelous Navy-themed “art” to honor their brothers in arms with.  Somehow I suspect there will be more than one rendition of the toad-riding faerie popping up – for art’s sake – around the august haunts of Annapolis.

Not just strong. Army strong.

J.E. Dyer blogs at The Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions” and as The Optimistic Conservative.  She writes a weekly column for Patheos.

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I find this to be a tad bit too oddly coincidental coupled with the current repeal of the DADT policy.

FlatFoot on April 23, 2011 at 11:07 AM

I find this to be a tad bit too oddly coincidental coupled with the current repeal of the DADT policy.

FlatFoot on April 23, 2011 at 11:07 AM

Hey! :P

Anyhoo, I lived in Alexandria for a few years, and enjoyed it sans “fairy on a toad” sculpture. I’m all about art…but that statue is one dang ugly piece.

JetBoy on April 23, 2011 at 11:16 AM

Thought was an article about Barney Frank.

cntrlfrk on April 23, 2011 at 11:17 AM

Obviously ties in with the repeal of DADT. It symbolizes the victory of the Fairies over The Old Guard (frog).

GarandFan on April 23, 2011 at 11:23 AM

Did you guys forget the money spent on the recovery propaganda website?

How much was that again?

dogsoldier on April 23, 2011 at 11:25 AM

The DOD is just as adept at wasting money as any other part of the Federal government.

Bugler on April 23, 2011 at 11:29 AM

…the first law of government funding is, if you don’t spend it this year you won’t see it next year.

This is imprinted in every Gov’t Department head. This is the reason we can’t get spending reduced. Every Dept. head claims they need more budget, even though they burn up the remaining budget at the end of the year on whatever they can dream up.

Phil-351 on April 23, 2011 at 11:29 AM

Goin’ home, late last night
Suddenly I got a fright
Yeah I looked through a window and surprised what I saw
A fairy with boots and dancin’ with a dwarf…

So I went to the doctor
See what he could give me
He said “Son, son, you’ve gone too far.
‘Cause smokin’ and trippin’ is all that you do.”


forest on April 23, 2011 at 11:29 AM

The Czar of Military Art needs to be asked.

Hening on April 23, 2011 at 11:33 AM

Proof positive that a large number of Dims Dems just don’t understand recruiting at all.

The Army, the Air Force and the National Guard NASCAR racing teams will ride again this year, after the House voted 241-148 to ditch a measure to ban the Pentagon from sponsoring stock car teams.

The measure was introduced by Rep. Betty McCollum (D., Minn.) as an amendment to the House’s spending bill for the rest of fiscal year 2011, which ends Sept. 30. Ms. McCollum said the spending on NASCAR teams does nothing for military readiness.

Um, Ms. McCollum? We must have new recruits on a regular basis. It’s really not that hard to comprehend, unless you are a complete nincompoop.

Good Sweet Gravy, how do some of these idiots get elected?

hillbillyjim on April 23, 2011 at 11:44 AM

They should just put up some of those NFL Fat Heads!!

abobo on April 23, 2011 at 11:52 AM

People, the offender here is the US Army Corps of Engineers, not the Army. The Army fights wars, patrols in danger zones, kills people and breaks things. The Corps, which is mostly civilian, by the way, builds locks, dams, and public buildings. The statues were for a BUS DEPOT, for the love of Pete! Criticize the Corps of Engineers Civil Works people all you want, but they are NOT the ‘Army.”

For the record, I was in the Corps for 13 years before I got smart and transferred to Aviation. I was loyal to the Army, but rotten to the Corps.

Longhorn Six on April 23, 2011 at 12:16 PM

There is something in the government called “use or lose” that says that if you don’t spend all of the money your department is allocated for any fiscal year, your budget for the following year is reduced by the amount you did not spend. So, when a government agency is nearing the end of its fiscal year (June 30), it tries to find creative ways to spend its entire budget. Talk about waste, fraud, and abuse!

College Prof on April 23, 2011 at 12:49 PM

Was this a recruiting poster?

OkieDoc on April 23, 2011 at 1:44 PM

Mass Insanity. We are all doomed….

deedtrader on April 23, 2011 at 1:45 PM

I find this to be a tad bit too oddly coincidental coupled with the current repeal of the DADT policy.

FlatFoot on April 23, 2011 at 11:07 AM

Yeah, that was the first thing I thought of, too.

A few years ago, Orange County Ca. had a chance to get $900,000 from the feds for “freeway aesthetics” if they wanted it. Well of course they wanted it! They didn’t need it but they spent almost a million dollars on ugly plastic molded flowers to hang on the freeway soundwalls. The county supervisors reasoning was that if we didn’t take it someone else would. Any wonder we’re broke?

cartooner on April 23, 2011 at 1:52 PM

Agreed: Right now, everything non-essential must be eliminated from governmental budgets including public art (most of which = major suckage anyway).
That being said, as someone who earns the bulk of my income doing commercial murals, please don’t blast the artist on this one before seeing the other proposals for this project. At least hers would’ve been fun to look at and she would’ve executed it herself and not farmed it out to a German “fabricator.”

Mary Magdalen on April 23, 2011 at 2:22 PM

Flaw in the article…

“And never forget that this year’s funds get spent, period.”

The writer essentially accepted the premise with only a modest complaint of “wish it didn’t.”

More time should have been spent decrying this sort of spending mentality as PART OF THE PROBLEM!

Warner Todd Huston on April 23, 2011 at 2:35 PM

Who came up with this figure and how was it calculated, because my guess is this is just pure America hating BULLSHIT.
Oh, I’m sorry I mean, Oh dear! that money could have been spent on schools or drug rehab for movie stars.

Observation on April 23, 2011 at 2:45 PM

Somebody back there must be licking toads to get high.

flataffect on April 23, 2011 at 3:08 PM

…the first law of government funding is, if you don’t spend it this year you won’t see it next year…

To be perfectly fair, I worked for a corporation where this was the rule, too. Not an explicit rule, but it was a rule nonetheless. “How can you claim you need all this extra money this year, when you didn’t even spend everything we gave you last year?”

Oh, and we certainly had our equivalent of toad-riding fairies, too.

I think this more “the rule of large groups of people coming together to do something.” If it weren’t for economies of scale, the little guy would nip in and steal Corporate America’s lunch every single time.

S. Weasel on April 23, 2011 at 3:27 PM

Look back folks… This outrage first hit the news on April Fool’s Day this year. I refuse to believe this is anything beyond a practical joke. Although I actually saw the model among some Chinese bric-a-brac at the AAA Mail Depot in El Cajon, CA. Anything’s possible…

Someone somewhere is laughing his ass off over this post.

rcl on April 23, 2011 at 3:52 PM

I guess the real question is which of the US Army’s recent slogans this public art project…was meant to evoke.”
Seems more like “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Doctor Hook on April 23, 2011 at 4:29 PM

I don’t see the problem, here.

The Army could use a statue of the Bad Idea Fairy.


warlocketx on April 23, 2011 at 6:43 PM

This is what happens every time you put government in charge of “art.”

It’s even worse when you put government in charge of “innovation“!!

landlines on April 24, 2011 at 12:35 AM

It could have been cool if the fairy was fully armored, and lance down.

Slowburn on April 24, 2011 at 2:38 AM

forest on April 23, 2011 at 11:29 AM

A much better link for that.

Fairies Wear Boots

Slowburn on April 24, 2011 at 2:44 AM

Putting aside the DADT snark about “faerie art” and aesthetics, this is just a profoundly stupid waste of money. And Dyer has it right on the money with the reminder that in all government funding ripoffs, if you don’t spend this year’s money, you won’t get it next year.

I will always remember the story my grade school friend Mark tells from Ft. Benning — the sarge grabbed him one sunny day took him to the shooting range to waste several thousand rounds of expensive ammo. Mark asked why and he assured him that if any of this ammo is not used, they won’t get as much next year. This was in 1979.

Jaibones on April 24, 2011 at 10:03 AM

$600,000? Hell, $200,000?! Me and the boys down at the scrap yard can come up with something as equally offensive, but at one tenth the cost. Hell, me and the boys would do sculpture for beer money!

BigAlSouth on April 24, 2011 at 12:03 PM

After chewing it over, I have to disagree with the notion that this is a particularly wasteful example of government budgeting.

At least with this project, after $200,000, we get a picture of a fairy riding a toad.

HitNRun on April 24, 2011 at 3:36 PM

Let me start by saying that the sculpture is hideous. I want to know why the DOD was shoveling out the funds for this crappy mess? If there’s a bus depot in Alexandria VA that needs sprucing up, that should be left to the Alexandria city council.

mizflame98 on April 25, 2011 at 12:34 AM

The Mark Center is one of the facilities that thousands of defense workers will be reporting to as part of the Base Realignment and Closure plan, or BRAC, that is shifting workers around Virginia and Maryland. The BRAC plan itself has been criticized as wasteful.

The budget to build this facility is – wait for it – $1 Billion.

I guess there aren’t any empty office parks in the area, or buildings for lease. WTF! Why should a placement center cost a BILLION DOLLARS? Anyone? Anyone?

(Bet it is gonna have the finest in dining facilities, daycare, dry cleaners, covered parking garages, health club, PX, climbing wall, social rooms with big screen TVs, $20K state of the art cubicles and computers, etc. Recession? What recession?)

in_awe on April 26, 2011 at 3:23 PM