Chicago Cows on Parade Art Exhibit

Cows on Parade, Chicago IL

Cows on Parade Background

Cows Parade, Chicago

Cows Parade, Chicago

Cows on Parade became a worldwide phenomenon after its debut in Chicago back in the summer of 1999. The idea was the brainchild of Swiss artistic direct Walter Knapp who was influenced by a similar exhibition of lions on display around the city of Zurich in 1986. The Cows on Parade idea was presented in Switzerland during the summer of 1998 and became a hit.

After making its American debut in Chicago, the Cow Parade cows quickly spread to more than 50 countries around the world. The idea is a simple one; have local artists, architects, photographers and designers, and celebrities paint, decorate, and dress up fiberglass cow statues, and then exhibit them around the city for several months. The art exhibit is a great way for cities to attract tourism dollars and showcase their local attractions. But there is more to the Cow Parade event than just accruing revenue. After the exhibition is over, the Cow Parade cows are auctioned off, and the money is donated to many different charities. During its 12 year run, it is estimated that Cows on Parade has raised more than $20 million for charitable organizations around the world.

Chicago Exhibit

Chicago Cows On Parade

Chicago Cows On Parade

After beating out New York City for the winning bid, Chicago was the first city in the United States to host Cows on Parade. In the summer of 1999, 300 life-size bovine beauties descended upon the Windy City, and took up residence in parks, streets, and local neighborhoods.

While top Chicago attractions such as Navy Pier, the Art Institute of Chicago, and Willis Tower were still popular, tourists to Chicago that summer came mainly for the cows. The Chicago Cows on Parade exhibit drew thousands of people who wanted to get a glimpse of the O'Leary memorial cow (which was originally thought to have started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871), the Millennium Cow, and cows covered in Astro Turf. Two cows were even raised and lowered as appendages to the State Street bridge over the Chicago River, while the bridge house became a "Cow Moo-seum" during the exhibit. There were even Cow Parade cows on display in several of Chicago's public transportation stations.

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Cow Exhibition

The 300 life-size exhibition cows set off a summer-long cow mania, with Michigan Avenue retailers and downtown hoteliers milking Chicago's cow craze for every last drop. Visitors were able to purchase miniature replicas of the Cow Parade cows, Cow Parade T-shirts, and do-it-yourself miniature cow painting kits at Chicago stores and shopping malls, and Chicago hotels, including the Hotel Inter-Continental offered special packages that provided cameras for cow picture-taking. The cow craze even extended to Chicago restaurants, which served up portions of Black Cow ice cream specialties in souvenir cow cups.

Parades and Free Events in Chicago, IL

Parades and Free Events in Chicago, IL

And why not? Cow Parade Chicago was the city's most popular public art exhibit, udders down. The free Chicago attraction drew more than 1 million additional tourists to the city that summer, which translated to roughly $100 million to $200 million in revenue, according to the Chicago Office of Tourism.

300 Chicago businesses purchased the 40 lb cows, priced between $2,500 and $11,000, which were then painted, dressed and accessorized by local artists and designers. The final auction price of the Chicago Cows on Parade cows covered the estimated $750,000 in artists' fees, the cost to ship and install the herd, and an abundance of promotional maps and brochures. The exhibit also received a $100,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs.

The event wasn't without its casualties however. Several of the Cow Parade cows were targeted by vandals, with one cow having a horn sawed off, and another fell victim to cow-tipping. However, these cows were quickly repaired and put back on display.

See the Chicago Cows on Parade Exhibit

See the Chicago Cows on Parade Exhibit

Even though the Chicago Cows on Parade exhibit passed through the city more than 10 years ago, there are still a few reminders of the moo-ving exhibit. Plenty of stores still sell the miniature replicas of the Cow Parade Cows, many of which are located at Water Tower Place and the Magnificent Mile. Visitors to Chicago can also see a permanent cow statue that is located outside the Chicago Cultural Center in the Loop district of Chicago. The bronze statue commemorates the start of Cows on Parade's international exhibition.

For a closer look at of the cows that took Chicago by storm, check out our comprehensive "cattle-logue", or enjoy perusing our full gallery of these colorful bovines.