Features & Columns

Luna Park Chalk Art Festival

Grassroots Luna Park Chalk Art Festival brings together community,
local artists for a day of chalking it up
Luna Park Chalk Art Festival HOUSE BEAUTIFUL: Local artist Lacey Bryant chalked this surreal scene at a previous Luna Park Chalk Art Festival.

Rather than raise money to invite international artists and fly them in from all over the world, the Luna Park Chalk Art Festival focuses on local artists. Rather than emphasize grandiose 3D chalk art, like festivals in Europe and abroad, the annual festival in Backesto Park raises money for arts education in schools.

Festival director Katrina Loera, who teaches art at Leyva Middle School, expounded on that philosophy over the phone last week. When she and her husband took over the festival a few years ago, the idea from the beginning was simply to have fun with it. They invited people who didn't normally even use chalk in their normal practice.

"When we started, we just wanted any artist to be able to participate," Loera said. "You didn't have to know the medium. We wanted it to be just a play day, really. ... We have have incredible artists all over San Jose, working in different media, why not just give them chalk? It was more about the experience and seeing these artists learning new techniques. We weren't looking for chalk artists per se. We were looking for artists who wanted to play with chalk."

One of those artists, Lacey Bryant, immediately picked up on the participatory nature of the event. Every observer brought something to the experience. "You're doing it in front of people, so it's definitely more of a performance, in a way," Bryant said. "You're engaging with people. People are talking with you throughout the day. So you get to have that experience. Normally, I'm painting by myself in my studio."

That was a few years and several thousands of dollars in permits ago. But now in 2013, the festival is better than ever. Bands perform, food trucks show up and everyone has a grand old time. To make the next step, a nonprofit, the Luna Park Arts Foundation, was formed a year ago to help support elementary school programs in the arts, now a primary component of the entire effort.

"The youth have to be where we start," Loera said. "That's why we invite all the schools to come participate for free, we buy all the chalk for them, just to get them out there. And then ask all the local artists to come do their stuff."

As a result, the community at large—kids, adults and the young at heart—get to revel in the creative experience. Everyone walks away with a feeling that the arts are important, creativity can help even students who struggle the most in elementary schools and that the arts just may be finally working their way back into youth education.

At this year's festival, which takes place Sept. 21, a slew of interesting characters will participate. About 10 are sponsored, while others are operating pro bono, or simply for beer money. In the case of San Jose's Murphy Adams, she found the chalk to be a wonderfully new way to work.

"It's sort of like pastel on paper," she said. "But you're working with different textures. There's definitely a learning curve to it. I normally work in bright colors anyway, so I'm not limited by any of that kind of stuff."

At last year's festival, Adams even titled her work, "How to (accidentally) Kill a Nosy Neighbor," featuring hedge trimmers cutting off someone's head, but in a cute and hysterical depiction. One nosy neighbor did actually complain, but Adams says the festival's high point is that it lets artists do what they want.

Lacey Bryant echoed those thoughts: "What's very unique about the Luna Park one is that they're letting us be very creative about what we do. I'm doing a piece of chalk art and it's something that fits into my body of work. It's me. They give the artists a lot of creative freedom to express their own vision and make their own art, rather than trying to push them into any kind of mold. And then the community gets to come out and see all this artwork that the artists are truly passionate about."