Provo chalk-art festival benefits children with autism (+photos)
Laura Seitz, Deseret News
PROVO — Three days, a piece of pavement and a lot of chalk is what 284 artists are using this weekend to create 161 masterpieces.
The second annual “Chalk the Block” festival features local artists and four professionals who fill The Shops at Riverwoods parking spaces with big and vibrant chalk art.
All proceeds from the artist fees, booth fees and sponsorships will go to Clear Horizons Academy, a local school for children with moderate to severe autism.
Carol Walker, assistant development director at Clear Horizons Academy, is passionate about the event and said she appreciates the help for the 60 students at the academy.
“The autism rates nationally are 1 in 88, and in Utah they’re 1 in 47, so there’s a great need for the services that we offer,” Walker said. “This (event) is so much help for us. The money’s really helpful, but the recognition and visibility are so important.”
Parents of students at the school are volunteering at the event to raise awareness of autism and to support the school. Emily Bowen has a 6-year-old boy with moderate autism at the academy.
“This school has changed our lives,” Bowen said. “Being able to drop him off in the mornings and know that he’s safe and know that he’s in the best hands, second to mine, I’d do anything for this school.”
Arlene Colman’s 8-year-old son, Fawkes, has been at Clear Horizons Academy for six years now. She said having a child with autism is an adventure and a roller coaster. Some days are hard days and it’s difficult to do typical family things.
“But then he’s a really great kid,” Colman said. “When he smiles at you, the light that comes out of his eyes is just pure joy."
Colman said she is happy to do something for the school because it has done so much for her and her son.
This year’s theme is “Remember When,” and one of eight prizes goes to whoever best represents the theme in a chalk painting. Artists must finish by 3 p.m. on Saturday for judging, and then students from Clear Horizons Academy will help hand out prizes at 6 p.m.
Chalk artists may find themselves in a bit of a time crunch, as the weather hasn’t been cooperating. Intermittent rain has sent artists scrambling to cover their work before it washes away. McKell Law, marketing director and events coordinator for The Shops at Riverwoods, said everyone has been helping each other, and the artists are still having fun.
“Rain or shine we’re here and the artists are here chalking, and we’re having a great time,” Law said.
Regardless of the weather, the festival features a high caliber of chalk art from the professionals and from locals.
“Part of the excitement is that these are one-of-a-kind pieces,” said Sheri Duffy, manager of Zions Mercantile and event volunteer. “Our artists like it washed off on Monday, so it exists and then it’s gone, and they like that.”
Julie Kirk-Purcell got hooked on chalk art 21 years ago when she tried out a festival for fun. She has since chalked hundreds of pieces all over the world in places like Hong Kong, Oman, Thailand and Israel. This weekend she is creating a scene of Madagascar with baob trees, dog-sized bats and lemurs — the favorite animal that sparked the idea.
“I think I’ve always been drawn to large work that’s really impacting,” Kirk-Purcell said. “I also like the fact that it’s temporary and that you can try out new things and learn different processes.”
Dawn Wagner, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., has been chalking for 26 years. For Chalk the Block she is working on a trio of striking female faces by Rolf Armstrong. Wagner said she loves the interaction of chalk festivals, working with pastels and using an art form of her Italian heritage.
While she may not carb load before the festival like Rebecca Pletsch (a fellow artist) did this year, Wagner plans ahead. She thinks about the size and complexity of the piece, as well as what she calls the “chat factor,” so she can finish on time.
“It’s wonderful that it’s become such a loved art form, where originally it was just for begging for money on the streets,” Wagner said. “Now it’s just a beloved art form really celebrated in the United States, and I’m just excited to be a part of it.”
Aimee Bohnam, an abstract artist in St. George, and Rebecca Pletsch, a BYU graduate and Provo resident, are the other two professionals participating this year.
Local college students from BYU and Utah Valley University are participating, as well as students representing 12 high schools from Draper to Payson.
A group from Timpview High’s art club checked on their piece during their lunch break Friday. They chalked a big, colorful lion as a team. Nathan McQuarrie, 17, and Rachel Sybwosky, 18, said it was the first time any of them had used chalk like that, but they were successful and learned a lot about teamwork. Sybwosky said the festival inspired them and they are planning a chalk festival at the school in the spring.
The festival has something for everyone: a farmer’s market, face painting, hair chalking, balloons, live entertainment and food vendors. There is free shuttle parking from outlying lots at Vivint and Imagine Learning. The free, three-day event ends Saturday at 10 p.m.
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