May 20, 2006

Moo-vers and milkshakers: Cow Parade comes to Boston

Since 1998, gaily painted, life-size cows have grazed on sidewalks, squares and street corners in cities around the world. Zurich was home of and host to the first Cow Parade, a civic art project wherein sponsors commission artists to decorate plaster cows that graze awhile in public spaces before being sold at auction to benefit various charities.

From June 3 – to September 5, you’ll find a hundred embellished bovines in Boston. (If you’re in town and want to do some cow-spotting, I’d suggest searching around Boston Common, once a pasture for real cows.) The heifer herd will bring color and whimsy to Beantown through the summer tourist season and will then be sold to benefit the Jimmy Fund, a non-profit organization affiliated with Boston’s renowned Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The Jimmy Fund’s main mission is to help children with cancer.

Some have bashed the civic cow art displays: not real art; not real artists; tourist bait; crass commercialism; silly waste of time.

Lighten up. When we see a painted cow on a city street, we laugh and snap a photo. Today’s world needs all the fun it can get. We know we’re looking at a plaster cow, not Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. Adding to the general feel-good factor is the fact that the cows are sold to benefit worthwhile causes. What’s not to like?

The Zurich Retail Trade Association mounted the original Cow Parade and owns the copyright to civic cow art. It entrusted CowParade Worldwide in Hartford, Connecticut to bring cow art to North America. Cows have paraded in cities like Chicago and New York.

The cows have calved immootators. Some cities have bypassed the Zurich-Hartford cowglomerate and created their own paintable plaster icons.

Lizards in Orlando; angels in LA; gators in Lake Charles, Louisiana; mermaids in Norfolk, Virginia; giant painted overalls in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; chairs (think Tyrannochairus Rex and It’s A Jungle Out Chair) in Charlotte, North Carolina; dinosaurs (Flora-Saura, Glamasaurus, Tree-Ceratops) in Martinsville, Florida. There’ve been pigs in Cincinnati, moose in Toronto, frogs in Toledo.

We were in Zurich in 1998 and saw the original Cow Parade. There were 815 cows plunked down around the city. Some were in plain view in well-trodden public places, and others were surprises – cow snouts sticking from half-doors cut into the stone walls of shops on ancient, twisted streets.

We gave a name to every cow we spotted and recorded them in our trip journal. The journal entries read like our Kenyan safari wildlife-spotting entries, but instead of "wildebeest, warthog, zebra, flamingo, giraffe," our Zurich safari yielded entries like "tiger cow, unicorn cow, cricket cow, diving board cow, tennis ball cow, jingle bell cow, computer cow, eyeball cow, chocolate cake cow, cow-on-stilts...