The Cleveland Museum of Art’s Annual Chalk Festival will be taking place at the Fine Arts Garden. This tradition began more than two decades ago in 1990. The event this year will be taking place on Saturday, September 16 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, September 17 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The tradition of street painting began in 16th century Italy more than 400 years ago. “It started almost by accident with beggars, specifically people who couldn’t walk or travel and who were rooted to the ground, looking for ways to get coins from generous people,” says Robin Vanlear, Director of Community Arts for the Cleveland Museum of Art. “They would sit in the village plazas and use charcoal to draw. They weren’t trained artists. They were looking for a way to entice someone to give them money.” Paintings by Raphael were popular at this time and these beggars would recreate Raphael’s Madonnas around churches, marketplaces and heavily-populated areas. People would reward the artistic beggars based on the quality of their work and typically the better someone would draw, the more they would be rewarded. At some point in time, beggars switched from charcoal to pastels which provided color and were easier to carry than oil paints.
The modern version of the street painting festival took form after WWII. Many Madonnari, artists who would reproduce images such as Raphael’s with chalk, were killed during the war. To rejuvenate the movement with new individuals, a small festival was held in the village of Grazie di Curtatone, Italy. During this time, numerous youthful individuals participated and found street chalk painting as a way to make money. Soon, the event began to grow and life was brought back into chalk paintings.
Artists are able to reserve stone squares around the area to display their work. Artists can pay $10 for a small square of stone (approx. 2 x 3ft.) or $20 for a larger piece (approx. 3 x 4ft.). After reserving an area, the artist is free to come and go as they please anytime during the entire weekend. “You can come, you can watch, you can listen to the music, you can walk around,” says Robin Vanlear about the festivities. “It’s a non-threatening art form. Anyone can draw with chalk.” Chalk is available in a 12-pack and 24-pack. The chalk is of great pastel quality and it is allowed to be shared and kept by the artist.
A chalk-making and street painting workshop is also available for those who wish to perfect their craft before the festivities begin. The family chalk workshop takes place on Sunday, Sept. 10 from 2 to 4 p.m. and is available for all ages. Children 5 and under can participate for free with a paying adult. The advanced chalk workshop for teens and adults will take place on Wednesday, September 6 and 13 from 6:30 to 8:30pm. Fees for participating are listed on clevelandart.org. Fees include both materials and square space for the festival.
With summer coming to an end, this festival is a great way to both explore an old Italian tradition while getting your hands dirty expressing yourself. This festival keeps the tradition of street chalk painting alive and well and it will for many years. Hope to see you there!