Parma is taking Ernie "Ghoulardi" Anderson's advice to "stay sick." Once the late-night TV host's favorite punch line, the suburb is hoping to have the last laugh with a public art project that gives wings to Ghoulardi's stereotype of Parma being overrun with cheap plastic lawn birds. Following the model of downtown's GuitarMania and AsiaTown's Chinese zodiac installations, Flamingo Fever asks local artists to interpret the iconic 19-inch-tall plastic flamingos for display throughout the city's Polish Village neighborhood. "We're trying to take that negative image and turn it into a positive thing," says Kathy Mabin, the event's creator.
In the 1970s, Parma's population peaked at just more than 100,000. Since then, the city has seen rough times, especially in the wake of the foreclosure crisis.
"I thought people needed to unite and do something about it before the blight takes over," Mabin says.
She knew her project should incorporate flamingos. "There's a lot of nostalgia involved," says Mabin, who sports handmade flamingo earrings and displays some of the campy birds on her lawn. "It put Parma on the map."
Mabin recruited her friend Terri Snider, a Parma artist who contributed pieces to GuitarMania and the St. Clair Superior Development Corp.'s zodiac art projects, to co-chair the event.
"When an area is in decline, you bring the artists in and everyone follows," says Snider, noting that the model has helped rejuvenate Tremont and the Gordon Square Arts District.
Flamingo Fever includes 32 pieces, from a whimsical industrial-punk bird to a jigsaw version whose colors represent the city's different ethnicities and religions. Snider's entry is decked out in beach gear with Hawaiian-print shorts, surfboard and lei.
An Oct. 5 auction of the birds will raise money to beautify Parma's business district on Ridge Road between Pearl Road and Thornton Drive. Mabin aims to raise about $2,500 to help create a small park.
"I remember the old Ghoulardi cracks," says participating artist Anthony DeMarco. "If you can make that symbol positive, it can bring a little bit of closure and unite the community."