The 2012 Sarasota Chalk Festival is a ten-day cultural event celebrating the performance art form of street painting when artists use the pavement as their canvas and pastel chalk as their medium. The public are invited to participate, attend, and interact with the artists as they go about their work. “The festival is as raw as it gets to feeling and seeing an Outdoor Museum in Motion as fine artists take to their hands and knees for days, recreating old master paintings, original works of art and 3D compositions right before our eyes,” states Artistic Director and Event Chair, Denise Kowal.
The festival is free for all to participate in and attend, and draws customers to local businesses in Sarasota by refusing to sell space to outside vendors. It pays for travel expenses, lodging, and supplies of artists who are approved early and uses quality sustainable products so that while our artists may get dirty, everything else is kept clean. The Sarasota Chalk Festival’s success relies on 4 different contributors: dedicated volunteers, generous sponsors, passionate artists, and enthusiastic visitors. The experience is rewarding, so why not consider joining us in spreading art, happiness, and creativity in Sarasota?
Our Theme for 2012
This year’s Sarasota Chalk Festival is turning to the circus for inspiration! ‘Circus City: USA’ is a tribute to, and celebration of, the Circus, who decided to make Sarasota their winter home in the 1920′s. The festival aims to bring people back to a time when residents would glow with anticipation as the trains rolled into town carrying circus families from around the world, along with their elaborate costumes, massive tents, and exciting props with which to practice their fearless acts. The festival is set to run for ten days from October 28th-Nov 6th, with the main festivities happening from Nov 1st-5th. It will feature two music stages, and a performance stage showcasing music, drama, dance, and acrobatic and aerial performances and as usual, is it free for all to participate in and attend!
History Of The Festival
Denise Kowal, President of the Burns Square Property Owners Association, founded and sponsored the first Avenida de Colores Burns Square Chalk Festival in November 2007 with 22 artists and 5,000 people attending. At that time the Children’s Chalk Playground, run by artist Jill Hoffman-Kowal, was the most popular area. Of the 22 participants that year, only 3 had street-painting experience, experienced street painters Lori Escalara, Kitty Dyble-Thompson, and Mike Kasun. These artists were all instrumental in the progress and development of the festival.
The second festival, held in May 2009, had already expanded considerably with over 75 street painters attending, many of them experienced street painters who traveled to Sarasota from all over the country. Various fringe events began to complement the street painting. There was a performance stage that featured non-stop performances by local bands, and by professional Sword Swallower, Johnny Fox. The children’s magic camp, Camp Cigma, also performed at various points throughout the festival as well as various poets, dancers, and models. The festival was beginning to really engage with the local community!
2010 was a big turning point, with the festival becoming the First International Street Painting Festival in the United States. By now it had evolved into its own 501c3 Non-Profit, and with over 250 artists in attendance it was fast becoming an important fixture in the annual events calender of Sarasota. That year, 3 artists created over-sized 3D street paintings; Street painting group, Art After Hours, created a giant 20′ x 40′ skullduggery; Tracy Lee Stum from California created an interactive ‘Mousetrap’ that measured a whopping 60′ x 30′ with a two-point perspective; and German artist, Edgar Mueller, created the first photo-luminescent street painting containing dual imagery with a massive 100′ x 40′ piece that showed a giant by day, and a fetus by night. The 2010 festival was met with such positivity that Sarasota City requested roads to remain closed after the festival to give the public a chance to view the finished works for one more day.
The 2011 festival focused on “Pavement Art Through the Ages’ and attracted a whopping 200,000 visitors to downtown Sarasota, giving the local economy a boost of $6-$10 million. With over 500 artists participating, the festival was the most important contemporary street painting venue in the World. That year saw Leon Keer and a crew from Planet Street Painting create a giant 3D chalk representation of China’s Terracotta Army with Lego. The first chalk Opera ‘set’ was created by artist Michael Kirby for Sarasota Opera to perform Madame Butterfly. Artists with Art After Hours created the first Augmented Reality street painting with hummingbirds suspended above visitors sitting within the artwork. Lectures and workshops were performed by the world-renowned innovator of 3D pavement art, Kurt Wenner. Melanie Stimmel created a mermaid sanctuary while artist Kumpa Twornprom provided live mermaids. That was also the year the festival went ‘vertical’ and invited over 25 international mural artists to decorate the walls of Sarasota City. The artworks were created with the co-operation of the artists, the city, and the owners of the properties whose walls were painted. ‘Going Vertical’ also featured the U.S. debut of a new kind of vertical art called ‘Cellograff’. This is a temporary form of mural art in which images are sprayed onto big sheets of cellophane that are wrapped between two trees or lamp posts, the result of which can be quite breathtaking.
Founder: Denise Kowal
Born and raised in Massachusetts, Denise Kowal has been a steady hand in the revitalization of the Burns Square area since 1983 when she cast her lot in the area. She moved into one of her own properties in 1996 and raised her two boys downtown. “They are both environmentalists who live the urban life”, states Kowal. Her property, The Herald Square Building, was built in the 1920′s by architect Dwight Baum, and the 1950′s addition was designed by Paul Rudolph, a noted Sarasota School architect. Kowal has owned and maintained the two historic buildings for over 23 years.
The festival was a natural for Kowal who comes from a family of artists. Raised on art school campuses through her childhood, Kowal is an artist (the sidewalks around her building display some of her work) and her two sons, both artists themselves, are following their own creative outlets. Her eldest son, Austin, owns and runs Clothesline Tees, a boutique and gallery in Burn’s Square, and a major annual sponsor of the festival. Her younger son, Kenyon, works as a graphic and web designer, and is one of the leading designers for the festival each year.
Kowal is passionate about the event and focuses on its organization for much of the year. She hopes to grow the festival throughout the city, and yet is realistic about the challenges artists and arts organizations face. With her background, the saying, “starving artist,” has some truth for Kowal. However, with a large number of generous and talented volunteers (remember the artists are donating their time as well) and with the hopes of gaining more corporate sponsors, this year she is confident that the ‘Avenida de Colores’ Chalk Festival will be a definite must-see-and-experience event.
Brief History Of Chalk Art
Artistic expression is something that can be found in every culture from every point in history. Expression through creation is a fundamental part of the human existence, and is a powerful force for binding people together. Street painting and chalk art has a long and rich history and is thought to date back to 16th century Italy. Street artists there were called ‘Madonnari” and were vagabonds who traveled from festival to festival, often acting as the visual counterparts of minstrels. They made their living from coins tossed into a collection plate beside their artwork, a tradition that is continued at the chalk festival by placing containers beside the artists’ work. However, the difference here is that the money goes towards the festival’s survival, and the artist who collects the most coins receives our People’s Choice Cash Award. Traditionally, chalk drawings have a religious theme. In fact, that is where the Madonnari get their name; the word is derived from Madonna.
The traditional Madonnari traveled from town to town creating small-scale chalk drawing with limited materials. They used chalk, brick, charcoal, and colored stones as their medium, and earned a meager living. The arrival of World War II and the desolation it brought with it saw a great reduction in the number of Madonnari, and a greatly diminished number continued chalking up until the 1980′s. When the International Street Painting Festival in Grazie de Curtatone Italy started, the Madonnari finally began to get the attention and acknowledgement they deserved. It was then that their art became a worldwide phenomenon, and art students from all over Europe traveled to Italy to learn the art. In 1980, Kurt Wenner became the first American artist to join the ranks of the Madonnari and pioneered the creation of three-dimensional chalk drawings.