Tuesday, November 30, 1999

Can painted pigs bring home bacon?

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        So, anyway, I'm just minding my own business, having the Fat People's Special — bacon, eggs, fried potatoes, toast slathered with butter and coffee with Sweet 'n Low — when this guy comes up to the table.

        “Are you doing the pig thing?” he says.

        I should think the answer would be obvious.

        Then I notice he's not paying any attention to my personal trough. He is looking at Tamara Harkavy's chest. This, too, is not what it seems. My breakfast companion is wearing her ever-present “Big Pig Gig” badge, referring to next summer's exhibit of fiberglass pigs.

        The fellow identifies himself as “a trash man,” who makes his collections outside the restaurant. “This thing sounds great,” he says. Ms. Harkavy, executive director of the Gig and nobody's fool, whips off her badge and hands it to him.

        Spreading the word.

An udder rip-off
        A lot is riding on these cloven hooves. Just because it worked somewhere else doesn't mean it will be easy here. The Big Pig Gig is the local interpretation of Chicago's Cows on Parade, an orgy of bad puns and good-looking fiberglass cows that brought an estimated $200 million in tourism. Then, the painted cows were rounded up and sold. You'd have thought Chicago had already milked this for all it was worth. But the cows just kept giving. The live auction brought about $2.1 million, and a separate online auction raised another $1.4 million for charity.

        Bidders came from as far away as Germany and the United Kingdom, and the Internet site recorded more than 600,000 hits.

        Lots of money. Lots of tourists — an estimated 2 million who traveled to the Windy City just to look at the cows. Many left with a serious case of cow envy. Or maybe just envy. Louisville is painting horses in time for the Kentucky Derby next spring. And Cincinnati, Ohio, is doing pigs.

Whole hog
        Melody Richardson, a formidable fund-raiser and local arts patron, says her committee has sold about 50 pigs so far to corporations such as Ashland and Toyota and individuals such as David Herriman and Lois and Dick Rosenthal.

        Prices range from $2,800 to $10,000, depending on location. Several schools are participating, including Walnut Hills, Aiken, Woodward, St. Rita School for the Deaf, Seven Hills, Cincinnati Country Day, St. Bernard/Elmwood Place and School for Creative and Performing Arts.

        Anybody can wallow in the fun.

        Sponsors can e-mail mrichardson@fuse.net. Artists can get in touch with Ms. Harkavy at artworks@fuse.net or 333-0388. Deadline is Jan. 3 for designs to be submitted for selection in the Artworks Porkfolio. Well-known local artists such as Pat Renick, John Ruthven and Dale Lamson already are on board. Just for starters.

        “We've never had so many superb artists here than we have right now,” Ms. Renick says. “It's just a matter of connecting artists with a sense of humor and a sense of spirit to the project. Then we'll go hog wild.”

        So far, Cincinnati has come up with at least as many bad puns as Chicago. Cincinnati Opera's pig will be La BoHam. Shakespeare Festival's will be, of course, Hamlet. Heidelberg will serve up Sparkling Swine and Fifth Third has commissioned a Piggy Bank.

        The goal is 250 pigs in time for the Flying Pig Marathon on May 14. They'll be displayed all summer, then sponsors can either keep the pigs or donate them to be the auction, scheduled for November 2000. Half of the proceeds will go to ArtWorks, a job-training program for teens, and the other half to a charity designated by the sponsor.

        “It sounds like a lot of fun,” the trash man says, pinning his Big Pig Gig badge on his coat. Fun? Sure. Artistic? Of course.

        But nobody will mind if these pigs also manage to make us all fat.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears on WVXU radio, on NPR's Morning Edition and Insight's Northern Kentucky Magazine.