Street art comes alive at the Sarasota Chalk Festival

Go to any major tourist city, particularly a city with a car-free, pedestrian-friendly center, and you’ll likely find street artists honing their craft, using just chalk as their medium and pavement as their canvas. Within hours, these street painters are able to create everything from spot-on renderings of the Mona Lisa to 3-D chasms that look so realistic you fear walking too close to the painting’s edge. Street painting is always a treat to come across. But, like all street art, chalk art is not organized. So it’s not an activity you’ll typically find on your weekend arts calendar. That is, unless you’re in Sarasota.

This week, the south Florida city of Sarasota hosts the Sarasota Chalk Festival, an annual event during which the world’s best chalk artists transform South Pineapple Avenue into an open air performance art space. In its fourth year, the Chalk Festival will focus on “Pavement Art Through the Ages,” paying homage to the art’s centuries-old Italian roots. In particular, the festival will showcase historical street painting, giving artists the opportunity to depict on pavement hundreds of years of Italian culture. The festival will also feature a 24-hour chalk painting competition modeled after the Grazie di Curtatone Madonnari, the very first street painting festival that took place in Mantua, Italy, in 1973. Madonnari, by the way, is the Italian term for “street painter.”

And then, there’s the 3-D art. Legendary chalk painter Kurt Wenner, an American artist who helped popularize anamorphic, or 3-D, street art, will be on hand to demonstrate his technique for creating three-dimensional chalk figures on a horizontal plane. In all, approximately 100 artists will decorate downtown Sarasota with dozens of mind-blowing street paintings that will all fade away shortly after the festival ends.

The Sarasota Chalk Festival runs through November 7.