Tuesday, September 28, 1999

Big Pig Gig is a good joke on all of us

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Big Pig Gig is up and snorting. By next summer hundreds of huge fiberglass pigs will be peering into shop windows, rooting along the sidewalks and basking in the glare of cameras. The next thing you know, the world will suspect we have a sense of humor. They will want to come look, just to make sure.

        At least that's the plan.

        It worked in Chicago. “Looks like we're finally confronting the bovine demons of our past,” wrote Chicagoan Collin Levy in the Wall Street Journal, calling the city's public art exhibit a “comic cowtharsis.”

        If Chicago can get over its long-standing struggle with being called a cow town, surely we can embrace our humble porky beginnings. For one thing, pigs are funnier than cows. I don't know why. They just are. And for every bad cow pun, there are a hundred bad pig puns.

        If it hadn't been for three people, it might have ended with bad puns and good intentions. But arts patron Melody Sawyer Richardson, Cinergy Foundation President Joe Hale and Artworks Director Tamara Harkavy decided to take the pig by the snout. They raised $50,000 in seed money and gathered a disparate group of local people to work with them.

        They tapped artists, business executives and public servants. And they did not forget to include Alexander Longi, 7, a second-grader at St. Gertrude's in Madeira who first submitted a proposal to Cincinnati City Council to “have local Cincinnati artists decorate pigs.”

        Monday, the organizing committee, announced it will do just that. The committee hopes to recruit at least 250 companies to sponsor individual pigs at $2,500 to $10,000, depending on location. The piggies are 3 to 5 feet tall and come with optional wings. Local artists will be commissioned to decorate the pigs, which will debut the weekend of the Flying Pig Marathon, May 14, 2000.

        They'll be displayed until October 2000, then auctioned to raise money for Artworks, an award-winning employment and training program for teens. Winner of the Name the Pig Project Contest is Joyce Monger, whose Big Pig Gig beat out more than 200 other entries. The former teacher promptly turned around and donated her prize — one of the blank fiberglass pigs — to Mariemont High School, where her son is a senior.

        “I want these kids and their parents to have a reason to go downtown and to be reminded that it belongs to them,” she says.

        This is pretty much what I have learned to expect from these people. They seem determined to have fun with this. And to make sure that everybody is included. If you want to join in — paint a pig, buy a pig, help with the paperwork or just make a bad pun, e-mail the Big Pig Gig office at artworks@fusenet.net or call 333-0388.

        Public art. Tourism. Pride. Downtown. An opportunity to hog the limelight. “People will be smiling all summer long,” predicts Joyce Monger.

        The joke is on us. And the punch line is pigs.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at laurapulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears regularly on NPR's Morning Edition.