Chalk art: the ephemeral cousin of painted murals

The term street painter does not refer to muralists… it quite literally refers to those of us who paint the street itself, eg the asphalt. With chalk. In the hot sun. Chalk art is rising in popularity as a feature at public celebrations like fairs, summer festivals, and even in stand-alone chalk art performance events.

“River Goddess” for the St. Joseph (Michigan) Chalk Festival, by me

It’s grueling work, and people often exclaim, “Oh my goodness! What if it rains?”

My response to this is, Oh but it will rain. It’s only a question of when.

The whole idea of chalk art is based on impermanence. It’s actually all about the rain, when you think about it. Once, I was at a festival in Florida and I was placed in front of a decorative arts gallery on the main square. When the festival started, hundreds of people started to flood the streets to come witness the annual “chalk art festival.” Hundred turned to thousands in a matter of hours. All of the little businesses along the street offered specials, sidewalk sales, and live music to draw in the event customers.

On this particular day, a group of ladies came to my square to admire the work I was doing. They asked the rain question. They said, oh, but if only you could shellack it to the street forever! I laughed and said, “No. If I did that you wouldn’t like it anymore. You only like it because it’s temporary.” They demurred, and said, “How do you know that?” and I replied, “Because I’m sitting in front of the art gallery. And you have walked by three times without going in there.”

Chalk art is wonderful and gorgeous and thrilling because it is temporary.

Murals are fantastic because they make buildings into works of art, uniting communities around a common destination.

Chalk art festivals are a great way to bring in the crowds. It’s a very low art form (pun intended! ha) and it draws together everyone from 3-year-olds—who are practitioners of this art form—to the headiest of cultured adult viewers, and everyone in between.

Pigment rubbed into the street; sometimes that’s all it takes to make an impact.

12′ Artwork for Indigenous People’s Day in Marietta, Georgia
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Stacey Williams-Ng

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