Chalk murals draw attention to foster care need

By Katie McKellar

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, June 14 2013 6:10 p.m. MDT

Maddy Ashton works on her chalk drawing for the Chalk Art Festival, presented by Utah Foster Care, at The Gateway in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 14, 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Artists dropped to their knees and began blending chalk on The Gateway’s sidewalks Friday to begin an event meant to promote Utah’s need for more foster care.

The chalk murals of the Utah Foster Care Foundation’s 11th annual Chalk Art Festival are for the public to enjoy and to draw attention to a larger issue.

Utah has about 1,300 foster families to care for about 2,600 children currently in foster care. It’s not enough, said Deborah Lindner, the communications manager for the Utah Foster Care Foundation.

“Children are always coming in and out of foster care, and foster families sometimes come in and out of foster care,” Lindner said. “There’s an ongoing demand.”

About 140 artists gathered to take part Friday in the two-day event. Free to the public, the festival provides an opportunity for attendees to ask questions about getting involved in foster care, volunteer for the foundation, or to donate money to foster care programs.

“We want to remind people even though the art itself is really cool and neat, there really is a reason behind this,” Lindner said. “We want to encourage people to stop at one of our information tables, find out if they can be a foster parent, or if there are other ways they can help.”

The festival’s message this year is “Foster Care Changes Lives,” she said. Down the Gateway sidewalks, foster families and children were pictured on signs with links to where people can read about their stories online.

“I hope that people walking through the event enjoy the art, and that it triggers them to find out more about the children in foster care who may be right in their own neighborhoods,” Lindner said.

The festival typically raises about $20,000 for foster care programs and attracts between 35 and 50 families expressing interest in joining the foster care program. Lindner said those gains can make a big difference.

“This means I’m not alone,” said Renee Calkins, a foster care parent. “It’s a lonely place to be sometimes because there aren’t a lot of us — there really aren’t. I think it’s amazing that there is something this big and this neat that people can come to for free to enjoy with their families and to ask questions about how to help.”

Artist Jonas Mitchell said he hopes his art will prompt people to stop, look and simply notice not just the drawing, but also the need to help.

“Having a single piece, even if it’s this large, people won’t notice,” he said. “But when they’re all together … people take notice.”

The festival continues Saturday, when the public can vote for their favorite chalk art murals; winners will be announced at 6 p.m. Also, at noon on Saturday, five Foster Dads of the Year will be named, representing each of Utah’s Foster Care regions.

More information about how to help is available on the Utah Foster Care Foundation’s website.

Email: kmckellar@deseretnews.com

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