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CowParade: Art, ad, or annoyance?

COWPARADE is an art project that for almost ten years has found success all over the world. People have become familiar with the sight of painted cows on city streets, in squares, next to the bank, virtually anywhere.

COWPARADE is an art project that for almost ten years has found success all over the world. People have become familiar with the sight of painted cows on city streets, in squares, next to the bank, virtually anywhere.

However, the cows high popularity and visibility can sometimes reveal negative cultural trends and attitudes in a country. In Slovakia, for example, the CowParade has highlighted the low interest there is in sponsoring artistic activities.

As yet, CowParade Slovakia has received around 380 proposals from Slovak artists. But only cows that have found a sponsor will be let loose on the Bratislava public and overseas tourists in mid-June. The organizers give a tentative number of 80 sponsored cows.

On April 14, artists, sociologists and advertising experts gathered to discuss the lack of interest from sponsors, the project's evident commercial potential and the huge promotion it gives the arts.

"We are at an early stage in the capitalist era," said Martin Mazág, editor-in-chief of Stratégie monthly. He was reacting to the non-readiness of Slovak firms to understand that using a CowParade cow as a subtle form of advertising might have a positive effect on a company's image. At the end of the day, such an investment would result in increased profits.

Some businesspeople, however, are treating the cows as nothing more than billboards. They treat their company logo as big as the cow itself. "Patience, as well as 'push' factors are needed," said Mazág.

Sociologist Oľga Gyárfášová said that creative projects such as CowParade bring examples of innovative sponsorship to Slovakia.

Around the world, over 1,500 companies have sponsored a cow. The CowParade has earned more than Sk421 million (€10 million) for charity. Some of the world's top celebrities, including Ringo Starr, Elton John and Nelson Mandela, have become keen collectors of the cows.

For the Slovak artists, the street-art project is a challenge. Getting exposure to the wider public is on the one hand sought after, but on the other can be a source of discomfort. Many artists are used to the more private world of the gallery.

Gyárfášová pointed out that people have stopped going to art galleries and so art has to go to the people. "The painted cows in the streets will force them to stop and reflect on art," she said.

"They offer a chance for the younger generation to get to know the works of older artists," textile artist Lea Fekete noted.

Artist Daniel Brunovský, however, did not think art should hunt - "terrorise" - passers-by: "There's a group of people that goes to galleries. We should aspire to these."

The painted cows in Slovakia will stand somewhere in between. They will not "attack" passers-by, and the commercial aspect they carry is a short-term feature. They will liven up the given space and at the same time they will show that art and business are viable partners.

"It is about playfulness," Gyárfášová concluded.

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