Sunday, May 14, 2000

What's the pig deal?

Visitors, events to fatten up local economy

By Mike Pulfer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        After eight months and more than $1 million in corporate sponsorships, Cincinnati's summerlong Big Pig Gig kicks off this weekend with at least 50 colorful, life-size, 50-pound fiberglass pigs along and around the 26.2-mile route of the equally big, equally piggy Flying Pig Marathon.

(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        And that's just the beginning. For the next 51/2 months, we'll witness a growing herd of artsy pigs, sitting, standing, walking and flying on 600-pound concrete bases. We'll find them in parks, on sidewalks and in office lobbies. They'll become a part of our lives.

        All of which promises a tidy return on investment.

        Tristate pig exhibits and events are expected to boost the local economy by $170 million this year, according to an economic-impact study released today.

        “The most amazing thing, and the reason it's all working, is the fact the entire community has embraced the project,” said Tamara Harkavy, Gig coordinator and ArtWorks executive director. “Not just the arts, but business, industry, nonprofits. That's what makes it so successful.”

        More than 380 pigs have been sold, and organizers are confident they will top the 400 mark before pig production ends. Sponsors — people, companies and nonprofit organizations — are paying $2,800 to $10,000 per pig for the right to decorate them and put their names on them.

        Higher fees deliver better exhibit locations; pig profits go to arts and charity.

        The economic impact report, commissioned by the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce and the Partnership for Greater Cincinnati, a coalition of chambers and other economic development organizations, was researched and written by the University of Cincinnati Center for Economic Education.

        The Gig, the report said, will draw about 500,000 out-of-town visitors who will spend about $82 million. The marathon, its impact restricted to a single weekend, will pull in about 5,000 visitors who will spend $500,000.

        The overall economic impact estimate includes new jobs created by pig events and tourists' money re-spent by local businesses and residents.

        “While the pigs play on our sense of humor, all the cooperation by area businesses, nonprofit organizations and supporting city agencies in the Flying Pig Marathon and the Big Pig Gig is serious business and should be celebrated as such,” said Joe Kramer, chamber vice president for economic development.

        Meanwhile, “The pig theme is the perfect antidote to combat Cincinnati's staid image and to prove to the nation what a wonderful quality of life and community spirit we have in the Queen City.”

        Kelly Weissmann, executive director of the marathon, said her organization was planning to do its own economic-impact study, with Xavier University, after the race.

        Since last year's race and a glowing review by Runner's World magazine, “We have gotten nothing but positive feedback,” she said.

        The pig phenomenon started last year with the inaugural marathon, drawing about 6,200 runners from all over the world. Almost instantly, it became one of the races for serious marathoners. Today's race is expected to include about 6,500 runners. For the city, the race draws attention and enhances reputations.

Pig paraphernalia
        Starting with the race and continuing with Big Pig Gig events this summer, tourists will spend about $17 million at hotels, $17 million at restaurants and clubs, $12 million in retail stores, $14 million for transportation and $20 million on miscellaneous purchases, according to the report.

        At Fountain Square, Pig Gig volunteers will sell T-shirts, caps and bandanas (not available this weekend), “oinkers” (noisemakers), plush pigs, card games, pig mugs, pig ornaments and other products as they are developed.

        Hotel managers and restaurateurs expect the Gig to generate even more business to follow what turned out to be a busy tourism season last year.

        “I think it's going to be a lot of fun,” said Wayne Bodington, general manager at the Westin Hotel downtown. “The pigs will give people another reason to visit Cincinnati ... an added attraction.”

        But perhaps more important than the tangibles are the intangibles: Not since the Mapplethorpe photography controversy a decade ago has Cincinnati's arts community been so unified in a common theme. Hundreds of artists within a 100-mile radius have taken jobs decorating the pigs. Among them: John Ruthven, Emerson Quillin, Tom Bacher, Patricia Renick and Michael Scott.

        Artsy offshoots are following in the wake of the exhibit's initial success. Among them: corporate and nonprofit Web sites, proud and humiliating hog-calling and hog-imitating contests, radio and television promotions, and feature stories about swine art and artists.

        The Happy Pig Collectors Club, based at Oneida, Ill., moved its national summer convention from Indianapolis to Cincinnati so as many as 100 members could enjoy the Gig in mid-July.

        “When I heard about the Pig Gig last November, I called a couple of officers and said, "Hey, wouldn't it be neat if we had the convention in Cincinnati?'” said organizer Jim Lopata, a Chicago art collector and businessman who has 3,000 pigs — ceramic, metal, glass, plastic and fabric. One, about 3 feet tall, is made from old musical instruments.

        More than 1,100 members of the Association for Institutional Research, meeting here this month, will get free cameras for a pigs-and-people photo contest. Pictures will be part of an awards-dinner slide show and, later, incorporated into the association's Web site.

        “Adults can be silly sometimes,” said convention organizer Denise Krallman, assistant director of institutional research at Miami University. “This is a good way of getting people to go out and see the city.”

        Creative organizers and promoters are launching other projects, too. Already, Team Cincinnati's Memorial Day weekend soccer tournament in Newtown is called the Flying Pig.

        At special events, Covington caterer and restaurateur Mick Noll offers up a tasty, “squiggly” dessert he calls Flying Pig Tails: extruded and fried pastry dough rolled in cinnamon sugar. “We sell a lot of them,” he said.

Pig parallel
        Cincinnati's Big Pig Gig was modeled after a similar spectacle last year in Chicago where there were 320 Cows on Parade. The exhibit drew about 2 million people to the Windy City, where they spent about $200 million. Live and online auctions generated about $3.5 million for charity.

        Organizers here don't know what to expect from a painted-pigs auction planned for Nov. 13 because they don't know how many sponsors will keep their pigs for themselves. For those who do donate pigs to the auction, half the money goes to the sponsor's charity, half to the ArtWorks Endowment Fund.

        ArtWorks is an arts-based employment and job-training program for youth in Greater Cincinnati. Its mission: to promote emerging talent and beautify Hamilton County and Northern Kentucky with public works of art.

        Regional artists were voicing their enthusiasm for the project last fall and getting in line to show off their creativity. Since then, more than 230 of them have signed up to put their brushes to faux pigskin. In addition, 53 schools, with hundreds of aspiring artists, have become involved in the project.

Pig posterity
        Even after it's long over, the pigs that were painted, rubbed and loved into life for the summer will endure — in public places and private homes alike.

        “We're being very creative in placement,” said Ms. Harkavy, the Gig coordinator. Because sponsorship sales have been so successful, “we're going to see more pigs in office lobbies and other unexpected places ... like Mirror Lake in Eden Park.

        “The city is only so big; sidewalks are only so wide.”

        For the race, “We've picked some nice locations (for pigs), anything to distract the runners and ... give them something to think about,” said Jim Bush, a member of the Flying Pig's board of directors.

        “It gives them some entertainment and a good impression of Cincinnati,” Ms. Weissmann said.

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