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Bucky on Parade editorial

University of Wisconsin mascot Bucky Badger reacts to the unveiling of one of 84 artistic sculptures based on the character's likeness during a celebration on State Street in Madison, Wis., Monday, May 7, 2018. The work, titled "Enlightened Bucky" by artist Lon Michels, is part of Bucky on Parade, a free public art event that will bring 85 life-size Bucky Badger statues to the streets of Madison and Dane County through Sept. 12th. 

Even in the most contentious of times, when tumult rules and vitriol pushes harmony aside, some days all we need is a little Bucky love.

And with Labor Day now a fading memory, we’re happy to reflect on our summer of Bucky love, via the “Bucky on Parade” project created by the Madison Area Sports Commission and the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau, with an assist from the UW-Madison chancellor’s office and many other business supporters.

Buckingham U. Badger, known as Bucky to his friends, has been the UW-Madison’s mascot for 78 years, and he got the royal treatment all summer, thanks to 85 versions of his sporty self spread throughout Madison and a bit beyond.

There was Retro Bucky, Bucky On Ice, and Rugby Bucky, each adorned with its own theme by local artists. There was Graduation Bucky and Biotech Bucky. There was Bucky The Builder and even Bucky Alvarez, a tribute to UW athletic director Barry Alvarez.

One of our favorites, of course, was the Black and White and Read All Over Bucky, created by our own Phil Hands, the State Journal’s editorial cartoonist. Our Bucky, who spent the summer standing guard on West Washington Avenue, featured the classic red-and-white UW sweater, along with dozens of small, black-inked Buckys, all doing fun things around Madison.

The 6-foot-tall Bucky statues quickly became magnets for residents, tourists and others.

How popular was Bucky on Parade this summer? More than 10,000 people used the #buckyonparade hashtag on Instagram. And that’s only public posts; no telling how many private photos were posted. Close to 20,000 people engaged with the CVB’s Facebook page about Bucky. More than 30,000 Bucky on Parade kids’ guides and more than 50,000 maps were distributed.

There was a marriage proposal in front of the Bucky at Henry Vilas Zoo. One woman visited every Bucky and created a replica costume of each Bucky’s outfit. More than 1,700 serious “Bucky hunters” this summer earned an “I Found Them All!” pin after visiting each Bucky in the project.

“It’s been such a joy,” said Deb Archer, president and CEO of the Visitors Bureau. “We always thought this was going to be really special but it just went way beyond what any of us thought could happen.”

Alas, Wednesday is the last day of the public art project. Fifty-five of the statues will then be sent to the sponsors who paid for them, with the other 30 going up for auction on Sept. 29. Proceeds from the project will be donated to Garding Against Cancer, a research fund-raising effort led by UW men’s basketball coach Greg Gard, and other local charities.

The CVB hopes the sponsors will also make their Bucky statutes available for viewing in the months and years ahead.

“Public art can really touch people,” said Archer. “And this has all been so accessible. We’ve had people tell us this project has taken them to parts of town they’ve never been to before. It’s sort of like being a tourist in your own town.”

Here’s a Bucky-sized high five to the Visitors Bureau, the Sports Commission and Chancellor Becky Blank and her UW team for putting together such an appealing public event.

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John Smalley is the editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.