Fresh Fish! Baltimore Gets Own Public Art

B A L T I M O R E, Nov. 30, 2000 -- First, cows took over the streets of Chicago. Then pigs invaded Cincinnati.

Look out, Baltimore — fish are coming to town, and they mean business.

Councilwoman Catherine Pugh announced Wednesday that Baltimore’s sidewalks will be decorated with fish sculptures next summer, the latest in a nationwide trend of creative and colorful animal-themed displays designed to attract tourists to cities.

Some $140,000 has been raised to get the “Fish Out of Water” project up and running, Pugh said. The 200 fish will be concentrated downtown, but they also will be placed in some of the city’s various neighborhoods.

Local businesses and civic groups will be asked to sponsor a six-foot-long fish sculpture that will be designed by a local artist. The sponsors can commission their own artist or one will be provided for them, Pugh said.

Sponsorships are expected to cost $3,500 to $5,000, Pugh said, depending on the final costs of building the fish and the pedestal for display. Costs will also cover a “fish hospital” to repair damaged sculptures.

The exhibits will go up in June and stay up through tourist season, Pugh said.

Animal Sculptures Have Legs

With tours designed to show visitors many of the decorative sculptures and merchandising tie-ins promoted by various merchants, the exhibition could be a cash cow for Baltimore, as it was in Chicago.

The “Cows on Parade,” believed to be the first exhibit of its kind in the United States, featured 320 life-sized fiberglass cows throughout downtown Chicago during the summer of 1999.

The immensely popular display attracted about 2 million extra visitors to Chicago, creating an estimated economic impact of close to $200 million, according to the city. A charity auction of the cows raised more than $3.4 million.

Chicago’s success set off a trend, with Cincinnati following suit with pigs, Toronto with moose and Miami with flamingos. Norfolk, Va., displayed mermaids and Bloomington, Ill. put up 6-foot ears of corn. New Orleans also has used the fish theme.

For the record, the CowParade idea was born in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1998. The Swiss government began promoting it abroad to improve the country’s image, tarnished by disclosures about Switzerland’s relations with Nazi Germany and its banks’ treatment of Holocaust victims’ assets.

The themes are often tied to the city’s image or major industries. The idea for fish in Baltimore came from a volunteer at the National Aquarium, Pugh said.

When the exhibits come down, the fish will either be bought by the sponsors or sold at auction. Proceeds from the exhibit will go to charity.

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