Chalk Festival aims to leave its mark on Cleveland

Brittany Moseley

These aren’t typical sidewalk chalk drawings. There are no flashy slogans outside the Cleveland Museum of Art asking you to “Go Greek” or to join the anime club. Instead you will find cement squares filled with color and drawings that look like they belong in a gallery, not on the pavement.

“I moved here from California with the idea of developing some community festivals that would bring the public and the professional artists in the community together with the museum,” said Robin VanLear, director of community arts for the Cleveland Museum and one of seven featured artists at the 18th annual Chalk Festival.

Before moving to Cleveland, VanLear was a part of an artist team that started a chalk festival in Santa Barbara. Eighteen years sounds like a good run for a chalk festival, but chalking is a tradition hundreds of years old.

“The festival of chalking on pavement is something that’s been going on for 400 years in Italy,” VanLear said. “It’s only recently that trained artists got involved. I would say in the last 30 years it started to evolve into a fine art.”

When VanLear started the festival, there weren’t many artists in Cleveland who used chalk. She gathered professional artists who had experience doing large-scale paintings or had experience with pastels on paper.

Once she had the artists, she held a workshop and taught them the basics of chalk drawing.

Wendy Mahon is a featured artist for the eighth year, and said she likes being a part of the festival because it literally puts art in a new place.

“We’re doing drawings on a place that people don’t think of, and once you’re finished, you’re done, it’s left to the elements,” Mahon said.

Although she is a veteran of the chalk festival, Mahon doesn’t know what she’s going to create until the last minute.

“I usually do something very colorful or very tropical,” said Mahon, a West Indies native. “Right now I’m thinking of what I’m going to do, but I usually don’t know until the day before.”

Anyone can do a chalk drawing. It’s $8 for a small square and a 12-color box of chalk, and $16 for a large square and a 24-color box of chalk. There will also be live music and the museum caf‚ will be open.

“I think that if our museum is going to have a role in the community, everybody needs to feel important,” Van Lear said. “If there aren’t things that bring the community into the museum, then people don’t have that invested interest in it.”

Mahon wants everyone to realize the importance of art, whether it’s on the sidewalk or in the museum.

“It’s good for everyone to realize that art is important for them, for their well being, for their soul,” she said. “Everybody has some sort of artist in them.”

Contact all reporter Brittany Moseley at [email protected].