Features & Columns

Luna Park Chalk Art Festival

Rain swamped last year's Luna Park Chalk Art Festival,
but grassroots support continues to buoy the event
Luna Park Chalk Art Festival WATER COLORS: A downpour at last year's festival washed away some of the chalk art drawn on the sidewalks and interrupted works in progress, like this piece.

Last year, Mother Nature exerted her forceful wrath upon the Luna Park Chalk Art Festival. The rain came down and washed the poor art away. Some artists got a chance to draw their work the day beforehand, while others began the morning of the festival, only to see their work wiped out by torrential downpour.

This Saturday, Backesto Park once again hosts the Luna Park Chalk Art Festival, with dozens of artists and vendors taking over the park and hundreds of high school-aged volunteers getting in on the action. Katrina Loera, one of the organizers, says that even though the rain slaughtered the whole show last year, once the word spread, more and more kids jumped on board to help volunteer this year. Plus, some of the bands that got rained out last year will be back. New sponsored artists will participate and don't miss the two "chalk art cars" adorned with chalk paint.

"We're hoping to have one of our artists actually do one whole car," Loera says. "And one car for the public to actually draw on. And these people go all over, take their cars to festivals and events and let people chalk, and drive around with the car all chalked out. And then they wash it off and then go to the next event."

Such is chalk art. Especially last year, when the rain came and wiped it all away by noon, one was reminded of the medium's impermanent nature. Watching the whole process unfold became quite poignant. One witnessed raw creativity at the hands of a few dozen artists, only to see it evaporate before they had a chance to fully realize their genius and demonstrate their true potential. In that sense, it was similar to life itself.

After the downpour, some artists stuck it out, while others bailed. Oddly enough, some of the chalk drawings even managed to survive the rain, and actually began to re-emerge once the downpour subsided, like strange multicolored ghosts coming back to haunt the scene.

All in all, the rain provided a Mother Nature effect unlike any other festival. It was like watching Tibetan monks create a sand mandala—only to dissolve the whole thing after hours of work—the point being to draw attention to the impermanence of everything, and to release everyone from grasping and clinging to attachments.

Loera, a middle-school art teacher by day, says she gets a zillion emails from high school groups who want to participate and volunteer for the festival. So much, that she may even someday turn the whole operation of the festival over to kids. Maybe even let them in on the planning stages.

"We're going to give them many more jobs this year, and responsibilities," Loera says. "And try to see how that works, letting the students almost run the festival. Because there's only about six of us putting the whole thing together, so we're going to put the kids to work and see how they run and manage everything."

Last year, I also attended the Victoria International Chalk Art Festival in British Columbia, a much more renowned event on a much more world-established circuit of chalk festivals. John Vickers, executive director of the festival, said that even though thousands of tourists descend on Victoria every year, the city still has a problem with empty storefronts and failed businesses—(sound familiar?)-—so his personal vision was to use the arts as a way to help improve the elements of emptiness.

"I had a vision that if I could bring in three major international events to our city, I could help revitalize our sagging downtown," he told me. "Like other downtowns, [we're] facing a decline due to more regional shopping centres, parking fees, et cetera."

Unfortunately, that weekend in Victoria, when I was there, the rain came pouring out of the sky around 3pm on Sunday, washing the chalk from the streets. But since most of the artwork was finished, no one seemed to mind.

The Luna Park Festival is more grassroots, the way it should be. We're that kind of place. Let's just hope the rain stays in the sky just for a day.

Luna Park Chalk Art Festival

Backesto Park

Sept. 20 10am-5pm