The Festival

The 2017 Chalk Festival will be located at the Venice Airport Fairgrounds on the island of Venice, Florida the week of November 10-13 - so mark your calendars and join us as we celebrate the pavement arts!

Hailed as the most important pavement art event in the world, the International Chalk Festival will run four days, in its entirety, at the Venice Airport Fairgrounds from November 10 to 13 with the 2017 theme announced January 1, 2017.

The festival affords you a once-a-year opportunity to become an integral part of the creative process. From start to finish, you become the viewer as the largest gathering of eminent pavement artists perform using the road surface as a canvas to develop oversized masterpieces in chalk.

This performance art form, as we know it today, is thought to have originated in Italy during the 16th century. These Italian artists called “madonnari,” went into remission after the Second World War. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the remaining small number of madonnari got the recognition they deserved with the start of the International Madonnari Festival in Grazie di Curtatone in Northern Italy.

In the USA, Robert Guillemin, known as “Sidewalk Sam,” became inspired by the Italians and took to the pavement in Massachusetts during the 1970’s. He remained passionate about the art form until his death last year.

In the 1980’s, an American artist named Kurt Wenner, while trying to make a living studying classical drawing in Italy, became the first American madonnari. He went on to invent the 3D pavement art which was documented by the National Geographic Society in 1985. He started the first festival in the USA, and along with the festival in Italy, was instrumental in transforming the art into a worldwide phenomenon.

Starting in 2010 and every year since, the Chalk Festival features the most 3D pavement paintings ever created in one location. Also in 2010, it became the first international pavement art festival in the USA.

The artists who create these 3D pavement paintings invite visitors during the festival to step directly onto their artwork--becoming a part of illusion in photos. These artists come up with intricate ideas that make images and the ground appear to dip inward or rise above when viewed from a particular vantage point.

In addition to the pavement artists who travel from all over the world, the festival organization invites anyone, of any skill level, to sign up as an artist and work alongside the professionals, creating their own pavement paintings. No other cultural organization mixes the most renown with beginners better than this festival, giving novice pavement and student artists a truly unique opportunity.

Other performing artists are invited to sign up and help enhance the theme. Other activities include the Pavement Music Festival, Chalk 5K Fun Run/Walk, Food Trucks, Beer Gardens, Vendors, and Family Fun Areas inspiring the young and young-at-heart to create impromptu art while visiting the festival.

The Chalk Festival is celebrating its 10-YEAR ANNIVERSARY. After six seasons in Burns Square, a historic district in downtown Sarasota, it moved to Venice in 2014. This year will be its fourth season on the Island of Venice. Managed entirely by volunteers (even the director, Denise Kowal, is a volunteer), this 501c3 non-profit organization strives to bring a global community of culture enthusiasts together who value the work involved to make and share memorable experiences.

Winning Sarasota Magazine’s Readers Choice Award for Best Event in Sarasota County 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 and SRQ Magazine’s Readers Choice Award for Best of SRQ Local 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, it is no surprise that during any given year, the festival attracted over 200,000 visitors during its time in Sarasota and because of limitations with access to the fairgrounds it now attracts upward of 50,000 visitors with an estimated economic impact in the millions.

For more information on how you can become involved as a Sponsor CLICK HERE or to apply to participate as an Artist CLICK HERE or sign up to Volunteer CLICK HERE  or you may call the Chalk Festival office at (941) 488-8877 or stop by 200 Base Avenue East, Venice, Florida  34285.

Check out our Artists

History Of The Festival

Denise Kowal, President of the Burns Square Property Owners Association, along with supporters held the first Chalk Festival in Burns Square, Sarasota in November 2007. At that time the Children’s Chalk Playground, run by artist Jill Hoffman-Kowal, was the most popular area.The festival welcomed 22 artists and attracted 5000 visitors to the area over two days. Of the 22 artists, only 3 had street-painting experience; Lori Escalara who was our featured artists from California, Kitty Dyble-Thompson, and Mike Kasun. These artists were all instrumental in the progress and development of the festival. Both Lori and Kitty have participated in the Festival since inception.

The second festival, held in May 2009, expanded on the 2007 model considerably with over 75 street painters attending. Many of the artists that year had experience in street painting and traveled to Sarasota from all over the country. At that time, various fringe events began to pop up to complement the street painting. There was a performance stage that featured non-stop performances by local bands, and professional Sword Swallower, Johnny Fox. The local children’s magic camp, Camp Cigma, performed at various points throughout the festival as well as poets, dancers, and models. The festival was really beginning to 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; Tracy Lee Stum from California; and German artist, Edgar Mueller. The 2010 festival was met with such positivity that the city of Sarasota requested that roads 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 an estimated 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 figures. The piece went viral and is still hailed today as one of the best street paintings of all time. 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 that allowed viewers to enter and interact with it. 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.

Creating a circus was the 2012 theme. 'Circus City, USA' paid tribute to the rich history Sarasota shares with the circus. It was a time when trains would pull into town full of activity, drama and flair as they unloaded exotic animals, elaborate stages and flamboyant costumes. They would embrace the warm weather and practice their daring stunts in our sunny seaside town that was just beginning to become the rich cultural hub it is today. The festival featured many featured artists. Kurt Wenner created the world's first several tier street painting illusion, 'The Circus Parade' with the assistance of experienced pavement artists. Sarasota's homegrown daredevil Nik Wallenda performed with his wife Erendira on 60' high sway poles that truly amazed everyone watching. Hundreds of artists shared their talents with the community and circus performers danced, played, and entertained the crowds. The festival brought out the child in everyone and was the Greatest Festival on Earth for ten days! 

Honoring Veterans, inspiring patriotism and embracing freedom with the theme 'Legacy of Valor' was the focus of the 2013 festivities. Festival founder, Denise Kowal, was encouraged to choose this theme by Festival Archive Chairman, David Taylor. Kowal agreed the theme should honor Veterans but struggled to reconcile the community event with the seriousness of the subject. All worries faded, however, once the planning got underway. A replica of the Statue of Liberty , reaching 31' into the sky, was created and graced the center of the festival for 6 days where taps was played at sunset each evening. The 'Thoughtful Reflection' exhibit recreated a portion of the Sarasota National Cemetery and was one of the most honored and heartfelt locations at the event. Seasoned artists chalked side-by-side with veterans to create beautiful masterpieces, and the student and children's chalk blocks welcomed thousands. A indoor show 'Reimagining Sarasota Chalk Festival Artists' featuring the artists studio work was added and shown at the Ice House on 10th.

The 2014 Theme honored 'Extinct and Endangered Species' and moved locations from Burns Square in downtown Sarasota to the Island of Venice. It was featured in three locations. The Traditional works of art were located on West Miami Avenue. The large 3D works of art were located at the Venice Cultural Campus along with the Student Pavement Artists and the Children's Chalk Block. The largest anamorphic pavement art in the world, that was designed by Kurt Wenner and created by Julie Kirk-Purcell and a team of artists, students and volunteers was located at the Venice Municipal Airport. Kowal chose the theme because planet earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals - being the worst epidemic of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, it occurs at a natural “background” rate of about one to five species per year but we are now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day - EXTINCT. It could be a scary future indeed, with as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species possibly heading toward extinction by mid-century. Artists created beautiful artwork. An exhibit featuring the artists studio work was held at the Venice Art Center. The Opening and Closing Parties were held at the Venice Community Center.

The 2015 Chalk Festival celebrated the theme 'Eat, Drink and Be Merry!' Was located in two locations. The larger 3D works of art were at the Venice Airport Fairgrounds and the smaller traditional pavement paintings were along West Miami Avenue. The Pavement Music Festival featured local and regional bands. 

The 2016 will celebrate the theme LOVE & PEACE

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.