Chicago aims to beef up tourism with bovine art


CHICAGO -- This city has come up with an a-moo-sing way to promote itself to visitors, and it's no bull.

Starting this month and running through Oct. 31, a "herd" of more than 300 decorated, life-size, fiberglass cows will "graze" along the sidewalks of Michigan Avenue, River North, State Street, the lakefront Museum Campus, O'Hare Airport and other locations. Branded "Cows on Parade," the exhibit is designed to boost tourism while promoting the talents of Chicago's creative community.

The promotion was first mounted last summer in Zurich, Switzerland, where a display of 800 cows was credited with increasing tourism by nearly 1 million visitors. After seeing the Zurich exhibit while vacationing in Europe, Chicago businessman Peter Hanig of Hanig's Footwear approached Chicago Cultural Affairs commissioner Lois Weisberg with the idea of re-creating it in Chicago.

Driven by the idea, the city signed a contract with Zurich, which shipped a short order of the artificial bovines to Chicago. The city sold paint-it-yourself cows to businesses and individuals for $2,500 apiece or for up to $11,000 for a cow painted by a local artist commissioned by the city.

The tagged, named, painted, bejeweled, dressed-up, dissected and carved cows, which weigh about 40 pounds, will be secured to concrete bases and scattered throughout the city.

Creativity was encouraged. For example, artist Nancy Albrecht's "Chi-Cow-Go" sports the city's skyline on its body and the four red stars and two blue stripes of the city's flag on its face.

The entrance to the Talbott Hotel will be home to artist Brian Calvin's "Cowccinella Novemnotata," which resembles a giant ladybug. "Depending on the moment, the sculpture can be perceived as a life-size cow or a gargantuan insect, a cow-becoming-a-ladybug or simply a particularly dandyish bovine," Calvin said.

Three cows will commemorate Mary O'Leary's much-maligned Daisy, the cow long held responsible for the Oct. 8, 1871, fire that leveled Chicago.

The city is planning to milk the event for all it's worth. The city's Downtown Thursday Night program will include scavenger hunts for cows on 20 consecutive Thursday nights beginning June 17, while the State Street Bridge Gallery will become a "moo-seum" beginning June 15.

A number of privately sponsored events will herald the cows throughout the promotion. Maps with the cows' locations will be available at hotels, the Water Tower Visitors Center, the Chicago Cultural Center and other locations.

"Cows on Parade" is expected to infuse approximately $300,000 into the city's arts community, making it one of the most important public art exhibitions ever mounted by the city. "Not only are these artists receiving important commissions, but their work will be viewed by millions of people," said Weisberg, the cultural affairs commissioner.

At the end of the exhibition, the cows can be donated to be sold at a "cattle auction" reminiscent of those held for many decades at the former Chicago Stockyards, with the proceeds going to the owner's charity of choice. Owners who can't bear to part with their cows can take them home as pets.

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