Though the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Chalk Festival began in 1990, the history of street painting goes back centuries to the Italian Renaissance. In 16th-century Italy, beggars would use chips of charcoal and chalk to draw on the market plazas outside of village churches. They often replicated the church paintings of the Madonna by Raphael and his contemporaries and became known as I Madonnari, or painters of the Madonna. Today, this artistic tradition is celebrated annually in Europe, Africa and the United States.
The Cleveland Museum of Art’s Chalk Festival is the second oldest in the country. Other than this year’s Chalk Festival feeling more physically connected to the CMA due to completed construction around the building, there are many reasons why next week’s Chalk Festival is a must-attend event for Cleveland residents and beyond.
“The Chalk Festival is cool because we have professional artists drawing alongside people of all ages and all levels of ability,” said Nan Eisenberg, community arts coordinator. “There are long-time chalkers, including some who plan their drawings months in advance,, and first-time chalkers, some who just chance upon the festival and decide to participate on the spot.”
This year’s featured chalk artists include Anna Arnold; Story Rhinehart Cadiz; Bruno Casiano; Tim Haas; Mark Jenks; Jan Stickney-Kleber and Robin VanLear with Robin Heinrich. The artists will create artworks along with school groups from Lake Center Christian School, Northeast Ohio College Preparatory School, and University of Akron interior design students and others.
Formal chalk instruction is not necessary to participate in the Chalk Festival, but registering for the preparatory workshops is great for those who want to improve their chalk techniques, explained Eisenberg.
“Participants can also learn about the history of street painting and practice techniques such as masking, stenciling and enlarging a picture,” said Eisenberg.
Director of Community Arts Robin Van Lear adds, “Having the opportunity to make artist street pastels from scratch gives everyone a greater appreciation for what the early street painters had to go through just to be able to ‘chalk’ on the sidewalk.”
Not interested in getting your hands dirty? For the folks who are less artistically inclined, it’s free to browse the artwork, watch the chalkers as they work, and enjoy the live music. Blues DeVille Band will perform on Saturday of the festival, and Moco Bova will play on Sunday on the plaza, both below The Thinker of CMA’s beautiful south terrace, surrounded by artists and street paintings galore.
So, what’s the best part about Chalk Festival in the eyes of the woman who founded the CMA’s Chalk Festival?
“Each year it is difficult to say which is more exciting,” said VanLear,. “The anticipation of what our many and varied Madonnari will create or the thrill at the conclusion of the festival as one walks around the Fine Arts Garden to see the results.”
Decide for yourself September 21 and 22 at the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Chalk Festival.