Once a year, you can gather to witness the largest gathering of renowned pavement artists as they use the road’s surface from start to finish to create their masterpieces in chalk in Venice, Florida.
This form of art is thought to have originated in Italy during the 16th century. The Italian artists called it “Madonnari” and it went into remission after World War II. Yet it wasn’t until the 1970s that these remaining artists received the recognition they deserved and started the International Madonnari Festival in Grazie di Curtatone in Northern Italy.
American Robert Guillemin, also known as “Sidewalk Sam,” became inspired by the Italians and took to the pavement in Massachusetts in the 1970s to make his own art. It wasn’t until the 1980s when American artist Kurt Wenner became the first American "madonnari". Wenner went on to invent 3D pavement art and started the first chalk festival in the USA.
Denis Kowal, President of the Burns Square Property Owners Association, held the first Chalk Festival in Burns Square, Sarasota, Florida in November 2007 to inspire community, culture, and commerce as a local event. A total of 22 artists participated in the first festival. Only three of them had previous street-painting experience before. These three were instrumental in the progress and development of the festival.
The second festival in 2009 moved from a local event to a national event. The event expanded from the one held in 2007 with over 75 street painters and attracted 30,000 visitors over the six days it was held. Many of the participating artists were experienced and traveled to Sarasota from all over the country. Other events that featured bands and music started to pop up around the same time as the festival as well.
2010 was a big turning point as the festival became the First International Street Painting Festival in the United States. It evolved into its own 501c3 Non-Profit Avenida de Colores and was named the Sarasota Chalk Festival. There were only 250 artists in attendance in 2010 and the festival was quickly becoming an important annual fixture in the Sarasota community. The festival featured the largest display of 3D pavement art in the United States, and every year since, the Chalk Festival has featured the most 3D pavement paintings ever created in one location. In 2014, the festival was moved from downtown Sarasota to Venice.
Artists who create these masterpieces invite visitors to step directly onto their artwork, becoming a part of the illusion themselves. These artists come up with intricate ideas to make their images and the ground appear to dip in or rise above when the artwork is viewed at a particular angle.
In addition to the professional pavement artists who travel all over the world, festival organizers invite anyone of any skill level to sign up to create their own pavement paintings. There is no other cultural organization that mixes professionals and beginners together better than this festival, giving every artist a unique opportunity.
Each year, the festival continues to grow in both participants and visitors. The theme of the Chalk Festival changes every year as well to keep artists coming up with new ideas and visitors coming back for new experiences. It is no surprise that at any given year, the festival can attract upwards of 200,000 visitors during its six or more days of activities and festivities.
This event would not be possible without volunteers so if you would like to volunteer, you can click here.
If you would like to be a pavement artist and contribute to the festival, you can sign up here to participate.
If you would like to learn more about the Chalk Festival or get tickets to attend, you can click here.
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