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Cows in the City.
Chicago – the Windy City… Famous for its skyscrapers and the Magnificent
Mile, this summer Chicago was embellished by a new landmark, or landmarks to be more exact. Nearly 300 cows have found a temporary home in the streets of downtown and its buildings. This extensive public art project, organized by the Chicago Public Art Program , commemorates the city’s industrial history, while bringing a sense of community and beauty to Chicago’s citizens and tourists. In this “parade”, every cow is full of meaning as well as artistic value. Although many might argue, I, to the contrary, would like to applaud the City of Chicago for the implementation of this great project.
This project’s idea was brought to Chicago by Peter Hanig, after he saw a similar
project in Zurich. From the North Michigan Avenue Business Association, the “cow” idea found its way to the Department of Cultural Affairs . This is how it all started. Sponsors commissioned artists, and the cows were on their way.
It is difficult to make a clear statement of whether the sponsors were trying to advertise using the cows or just participate selflessly in this magnificent “parade”. Some cows, such as “Give the Lady what She Wants” with shopping bags on its back is obviously nothing other than advertising for the Marshall Field’s & Co., the cow’s sponsor. The same can be said for the “Mooving Eli”, near the Eli’s Cheesecake, which also doesn’t disguise its advertising nature. Some people are disgusted to call this form of advertising a public art program.
However, it is not completely fair to blame sponsors for wanting to use the cows for their own benefit. If cows were bought with tax money, then this issue would become really controversial. Many people, with whom I will tend to agree, understand that although some cows are used for advertising, there are many cows that actually beautify and enrich the city of Chicago by their presence.
One of the examples is the “Stampede” cow, near the historic Water Tower. This cow achieves an incredible much in terms of promoting the city and is a true example of a public art figure that celebrates the city’s diversity of events. This cow is painted with images of Chicago’s celebrations, such as the “Taste of Chicago”, the “Venetian Night” and the air show. It is mostly delightful to see a smile on little children’s faces as well as the faces of adults.
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It is, in my opinion, the objective of a citywide art project to promote the city, celebrate its history, history of its people and boost its economic growth. When “Cows on Parade” are analyzed as an inseparable part of Chicago, it is easy to see that all the above mentioned criteria are met. Cows have it all: history, economic boost and promotion for the city. The “O’Leary Memorial” and the “Don’t blame Daisy” cows commemorate Chicago’s fire, as it is obvious by the names. The “Don’t blame Daisy” cow is particularly interesting, since it has a picture of the present day Chicago skyline in its eyes. It creates the image that the cow is looking into the future. This is image is quite inspiring; it depicts the city’s triumph.
This project gave our city a sense of community employing maternal looking animals. Although not a primary reason, it is known that cows are linked to Chicago’s industrial past, when Chicago was the “meat packing” city. As in terms of economy, the impact of cows is tremendous. It is probable that this year more tourists visited Chicago than before. People who do not often find themselves in downtown, such as my parents, have made it a point to see and experience cows’ impact. This, of course, creates a snowball effect, benefiting various public services and enterprises starting from the CTA, downtown restaurants and stores, to parking garages, boat tour lines, taxi companies and the Navy Pier. Economically, this project is definitely a winner.
“A winner for whom?” people ask in the streets. A homeless man inquired how many hungry people one cow could feed. People are questioning the necessity of this project.
“I think the whole idea is borderline amoral. $3,500 - $11,000 a cow? My wife and I are foster parents and have to make every dime count and have to battle for services and support for the 5 wards of the state in our home. And there are over 40,000 kids in Illinois like that. Where are our priorities?”
However, difficult the issue, Chicago needs public art just like it needs museums, which people do not seem to mind. I agree that the money that cows are going to make during the auction should be and will be donated to the charities. This should be a mandatory process, through which the neediest groups in the Chicago and metropolitan area should benefit. Either out of benevolence or the preservation of the image, the money will be donated to the charities.
The evidence is in for the cows; they do benefit Chicago and its communities in many ways. However, there are different issues with them as “pieces of art.” Through hard work of artists and planners, each cow conveys a certain artistic message and artistic value, according to some. It is, however, easy to understand why some people are against these beauties; they are obviously unusual artistic expressions.
“Chicago is known for accepting art that would probably be considered lost cause and I have accepted that. But, my God, this the most horrible display of art that the city has allowed to decorate the Chicago loop (with).”
Not all are happy. But who is able to define art? To me, it is an expression of a deeper
meaning, something that provokes emotions and encourages thinking. “Cows on Parade” is an example of such art and a great many probably enjoy it. One of its most important attributes is that this expression of art is public: it is approachable and accessible to people of all ages. This is one of the things that make this project so great.
Whether analyzed as a part of the city or individually standing creations of art, cows seem to be a positive change for the city of Chicago. This city needs more public art and with certain cautions, I hope that it will continue to undertake such projects. One of the most important messages that I would like to conclude this with is that relayed by the “Planet Chicowgo” cow. Painted with the map of the world on both sides, this cows lists many architectural beauties in various parts of the world such as the Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Piza and etc. Around its neck, the cow has the following words, “Glad decided to leaf me here – rather than some udder place.” There are so many wonderful places, but still no place like Chicago.
1. Introduction. Cows on Parade. 1999. Page 8. (No other information available).
1. Cows on Parade™. Chicago 1999: Where the Cows Are. Chicago: City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, 1999.