Chalk Festival in Sarasota draws thousands

11/09/11 Andrea Lypka
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Now that the stifling summer weather has ended, outdoor art activities are gearing up in Florida. More than one hundred thousand visitors experienced brightly colored streets at the Sarasota Chalk Festival last week. Street painter Caroline Schultz from Orlando is among the 250 artists from around the world who chalked religious themed art on South Pineapple Avenue in Sarasota. She has been chalking since 1995 using inexpensive hard pastels.

“I have never used pastels before. And there was a street painting festival in Orlando and I got invited by my employer who was sponsoring a square. I was hooked and ever since then, I have been doing it. It is something about the sitting in the street and the people observing and talking with them and watching it yourself come alive and then getting the comments from the people. I don’t know… we need to be complemented more maybe,” Schultz said.

This year’s theme is “Pavement Art through the Ages.” Henry Darnell from Dallas, Texas uses hand-made chalk for his street painting of Norman Rockwell’s illustration from the cover of Saturday Evening Post in 1943.

“And it’s an image of Rosie the Riveter which was created to build interest in the home movement during the WWII. It was sort of the fight against Hitler. And it is very much of a propaganda piece of a woman holding up a rivet gun. And he actually lifted the pose from one of the images on the Sistine chapel. So, it is a very iconic pose that strikes an image in people’s minds,” he said.

Katie Zatsick from Sun City Center did not get her hands dirty but she says she enjoys interacting with the artists.

“My daughter brought me, and my granddaughter, I am here. Because we just love the art. It is fabulous. And their creativity. And the thing is for me, they are willing to present their art as ephemeral. And it will be gone. It will be gone, cars will run over, don’t that be sad?" Zatsick said.

Artist Flavio Coppola from Florence says the purpose of his art is to interact with people. This is his first time visiting the U.S. He was one of the five Italian artists at Sarasota Chalkfest that honored the Grazie di Curtatone Madonnari competition, the first ever street drawing festival that started 39 years ago in Italy.

Denise Kowal, the artistic director and event chair lives and breathes chalk and art this time of year. She started organizing the event four years ago with 20 local street painter artists and volunteers. Now she says the event connects people.

“Just to give examples, I had a woman we flew in last year who hasn’t seen her father in 15 years and now he is reconnected with the family. You know, they send you a letter about how much you impacted their lives. I had a girl that used to do self-inflicted wounds to herself and she wrote me a letter during the festivals that she stopped doing it. She is on her way to getting her doctorate. You know there are all these social issues. If people think that this is only art and it is a playful thing that people do on their free time and it means nothing, they are really missing what this festival does because it brings heart, it brings community,” she said.

Thanks to a last minute partnership with the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau organizers secured a $25,000 grant from the city of Sarasota.

“We are getting some funds from the city this year but they [city] don’t seem too ambitious to really want to carry it forward to do something again next year. To me it is very important that the county and the city participate is because they are the largest beneficiary of this event. So all the volunteers and all the artists and all the sponsors and the people that show up are doing it in a way that it is supporting our community. All so the tax, and all the bed taxes that goes into making us a successful city and creating a sense of place that is created by this venue,” Kowal said.

Even though their grant request was approved in August, but due to changes in regulations, they had to redo the paperwork according to new guidelines to qualify for grants.

“We didn’t have time to readjust to changes after they already approved us. So the SCVB stepped in and they took care of all of that stuff for us which was a godsend because if they didn’t, honestly, the festival would never have happened this year. We would have to cancel the event,” she said.

But she hopes that the city and the county will continue to sponsor this event next year to preserve the cultural tradition of street painting and create a community event.

Andrea's Sarasota Chalkfest photo gallery

Andrea's Sarasota Chalkfest video:

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