This year’s Chalk Festival is now over, but the impact it had on our community has yet to be fully assessed. I attended the festival on four separate occasions. You could feel the energy building as more and more chalk artists, among more than 50 participants, developed their work throughout the 10 days of the festival. As I heard one onlooker proclaim, the process of creation was more important than the final product. That may be true, but the final drawings were still breathtaking. They were intricate designs conceived brilliantly; in some cases, you had to stand in a particular spot or even on a ladder to capture the full effect.
Denise Kowal, Artistic Director of the Chalk Festival, said that at any given time during the heart of the festival, there were between 1,000 to 2,000 people on the streets lining up to catch a glimpse of the drawings. The one-directional lines worked beautifully and onlookers carefully lined up and moved slowly through the procession to see each of the works of art. Interestingly, everyone I saw, even during the last weekend before the election, appeared as light-hearted as I have seen Sarasotans in quite some time. It felt like a welcome break from partisan rancor and political grandstanding that seemed to reach a fever pitch as the long grind to the election day drew to a close.
Who doesn’t love a circus, after all? The theme and the sheer skill required to create this work came together to bring joy and amazement to our local community, as well as to the travelers who came to town to take in this magical event. Denise said that at least 28 event organizers from around the world came here to see our festival, which she said many experts consider the best and most important of the world’s chalk festivals, particularly because of the level of artistry.
Denise said the crowds never stopped from sunrise until late into the evening, particularly because the event was peppered with performances throughout the 10 days. We looked up at one point to see the Flying Wallendas performing overhead. At any given time, a local band, dance performance or circus performer was hitting the stage to wow the audiences. This was truly a community-wide celebration with something for everyone. Additionally, Going Vertical was bigger and better than ever with vertical artists working on the canvases of buildings all throughout the festival area. We gave my 22-month old daughter Daphne an old camera so she could capture her favorites, and she was most captivated with paintings by Entes y Pésimo on the old gas station on Ringling Boulevard. She stood in front of each of the beautiful faces, saying “crying,” and repeatedly took photos of these stunning pieces. She uttered “Chalk Festival” over and over as we walked away.
When she woke up from her nap, I asked Daphne if she thought we should go back to the Chalk Festival, and she said “Mommy Denise” several times. I quickly called Denise to tell her what an impression she had made on Daphne, who equated the festival with its indefatigable founder. Denise is unwavering in her support of the event and the artists, and together with all of her tireless volunteers brought us another fantastic festival!