Chicago’s ‘Cows’ are welcomed back to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the iconic initiative that sparked an international movement.
In July 2019, Cows on Parade returns to Chicago to celebrate the public art campaign’s 20th anniversary. Chicago businessman Peter Hanig, with the assistance of Commissioner of Cultural Affairs Lois Weisberg, is responsible for adapting the concept for the city in 1999. Hanig was inspired by a similar exhibition created by artistic director Walter Knapp he saw while on vacation in Zürich, Switzerland the preceding year. “I kept seeing people gathering and laughing around them in Zurich, and I thought the cow would fit naturally in Chicago, given the stockyards, the legend of O’Leary’s cow and the Chicago fire, and our agrarian state,” he explains. “A cow is also approachable, non-threatening, understandable, and relatable.” CowParade Holdings Corporation, the official owner of the CowParade brand, seconds that sentiment. “The cow represents different things to different people around the world, but the common feeling is one of affection. There is something magical about the cow that transcends throughout the world. She simply makes everyone smile.” its website declared.
The first four-month event boasted a herd of more than 300 fiberglass cow sculptures decorated in a wild assortment of themes and placed around the city. Estimated to generate $328,000, “Cows on Parade” yielded nearly $3.5 million that year. Local businesses paid $3,500 to sponsor a cow, $1,000 of which went to an artist selected from a pool compiled by the city. Once the artist was chosen and the work completed, the cow was posed in a random place. Their designs paid tribute to everything from the “L” train to Marilyn Monroe. Word about the flamboyant statues spread quickly, with more than 2 million people flocking to Chicago to see them before they were auctioned off that October and all of the proceeds donated to the sponsor’s charity of choice. “It had such an impact on the city, so I think people will enjoy seeing some of the cows again,” says Peter Hanig, owner of Hanig’s Footwear. This time, the Magnificent Mile Association has elected to set the cows out to pasture in Jane Byrne Park at Michigan and Chicago Avenues behind the Historic Water Tower. Hanig asked cow owners to lend some of the sculptures back for the July reunion. “There will be eighteen cows in Jane Byrne Park. Well, seventeen and a half.” says Hanig. Split and displayed at the Board of Trade in 1999, Hanig acquired and decorated the rear of the original sculpture. “We’re calling it ‘The End of the Parade.’ ” he says.
“I just want them to lighten people’s moods when they spot them,” says Hanig. Since 1999, the whimsical exhibition has inspired 79 cities around the world. The nationwide movement has seen everything from corn, pigs, and even fire hydrants.
See “Cows Come Home” on display until July 31st in Jane Byrne Park, which is open all day, seven days a week. The Historic Water Tower building’s hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the weekend.