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Burlington Bombarded by Bovines


Published May 11, 2010 at 5:35 p.m.

In keeping with the grand tradition of Vermont being about a half a decade behind on every major trend, the painted fiberglass cows have arrived in downtown Burlington. Today (Tuesday), crews put the finishing touches on the lumbering herd, drilling them into their concrete moorings to ensure that no cow tipping takes place.

The bedazzled bovine initiative, dubbed "The Cows Come Home to Burlington," is an effort by the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce to get people to visit Church Street and presumably spend money and feel some sort of civic pride while they're doing it. The chamber's website calls it "a 24/7, non-weather dependent event." If by event they mean stationary objects for little kids to look at, then I suppose it can be called that.

Each of the 38 cows has been gussied up in its own special way by local artists including Katherine Montstream, Woody Jackson and Alex Dostie. Some have been decoupaged, others have stenciled, and still others been landscaped to within an inch of their inanimate lives. Vermont never met a bucolic farm landscape painting it didn't love and these cows are proof of that. A number of cows stand as homages to the Hudson River School.

 The cows are sponsored by various Vermont companies, all of which paid $2500 for the pleasure — Ben & Jerry's (whose cow was of course done by its own design department), Cabot Creamery (which sponsored two cows designed by Driven Studio) and Hannaford (landscape cow), to name a few. A number of institutions of higher learning bought cows including Champlain College, St. Michael's and Johnson State College. Shelburne Farms, Spruce Mortgage and the Burlington "International" Airport also funded some cows.

Newspapers being put to good use.

For five months, the cows will graze in downtown Burlington until October when they will be auctioned off for charity, and profit. Ten percent of the auction proceeds will go to the Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger. The remaining 90 percent will be divvied up between the Chamber (for tourism), the Church Street Marketplace Foundation (for upkeep of the thoroughfare's bricks) and Burlington Business Association (for business).

Now I've got no beef with these cows (Count it! One Pun Point for Lauren), though it might seem from the previous few paragraphs that I do. I think they're fun to look at and they're a blast for kids. One girl I saw out there ran from cow to cow screaming, "Mommy, there's another one." Precious. That's the whole point of them, says Matt McMahon, regional marketing and tourism director for the chamber. Apparently, they picked cows instead of our favorite lake monster Champ because "warm and cuddly animals do better with kids."

I'm just sort of kvetching about the fact that about 900 other cities have done fiberglass "Fill-in-the-blank on Parade" before we have. Washington, DC (elephants and donkeys), Pittsburgh (T-Rexes), Los Angeles (angels) and Chicago, New York, London, Tokyo, Stockholm (all cows) have all successfully staged art events featuring artist-designed fiberglass creatures. Couldn't we have done something more edgy? Like life-sized painted nudes or nuclear warheads (ironic, no?)? That's why I'm not in charge.

This form of public art is so successful (Chicago claims the event pumped $200 million into the economy and raised nearly $3.5 million for charity) that there are companies dedicated just to animals on parade event planning. Cow Parade Holdings Company, a Connecticut outfit, puts on Cow Parades all over the world. 2010 will see parades of cows in Xiamen, China; Margaret River, Australia; Tunis, Tunisia;  Bordeaux, France; Izmir, Turkey; Rome; Italy and Sao Paulo, Brazil. Burlington's cows came from Fiberglass Farm, a company in Belfast, Maine, specializing in fiberglass fauna. Nice work if you can get it.

To get a glance at the fiberglass cows' udders (including the Tiffany udder on my very favorite cow), check out the slideshow below: