Chalk It Up To Sacramento: Art festival turns park into canvas

Every Labor Day weekend in Sacramento’s Fremont Park – just catercorner from where I lived from 2001 to 2003 and just blocks from the heart of downtown – there is a mini-festival called “Chalk It Up To Sacramento“.

The park where this all happens is one city block big and surrounded by sidewalks. Each square of the sidewalk is then sold off for the weekend so that local artists can use chalk to decorate their square. Proceeds go to support children’s art education. And some of the results are amazing.

I was there Saturday, September 3 and artists of all different calibers, talent and intent were working making some of the most beautiful designs – all out of chalk. Some squares are sponsored and artists might draw a logo in the square for that business. Others are just being creative and drawing whatever comes to mind. Some use grids to copy photographs or other artwork.

Jim Primrose is a Sacramenten (that’s what they call them out there) and this was his third year filling a sidewalk square at the event. He had two squares this year, in fact, side-by-side and seemed to be working with another artist. They were doing an beautiful, elaborate mural with a mermaid in the corner.

“I don’t know what it’s called yet,” he said sitting on a piece of cardboard over a corner of the drawing. He used the cardboard to reach a lower corner of his work that he was adding detail to and so that he wouldn’t damage an already completed portion of his artwork. His dark face had chalk streaks where he might have wiped sweat off his face on this typically hot Sacramento summer day.

People stroll on the grass on the outside perimeter of the park between the sidewalk and the street to look at the artwork (for some reason all the artists orient their work facing away from the park). Because it seldom rains in Sacramento (the first rain doesn’t usually fall until late autumn), this project stays on the sidewalk long after the weekend is over and the artists don’t have to worry about rain ruining their work. This way, too, many people get to see their work long after the festival is over.

When I lived in Sacramento this was one of my favorite events to go see. An outdoor studio full of artists working very hard to make something that will only be visible for a few months is pretty remarkable, too.

Too bad the weather in Cincinnati doesn’t afford us the opportunity to do the same kind of project. Or would it?

Author: Joe Wessels

Joe Wessels is a freelance journalist and photographer. Wessels covers local news events for Thomson Reuters news service and features for About.com's Cincinnati Guide site, plus is the executive director of hyperlocal news site, iRhine.com. He wrote for The Cincinnati Post, covering Cincinnati City Hall and Hamilton County government and wrote a weekly political column, which continued weekly at Cincinnati CityBeat. Previously, he was a reporter for the Cincinnati Business Courier and writes or has written for several publications in Cincinnati and around the country including The Cincinnati Enquirer, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine and the Sacramento News & Review. He is a native of Colerain Township, one of Cincinnati's western suburbs, and now lives in Over-the-Rhine near downtown Cincinnati. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a journalism writing certificate from the University of Cincinnati. He also graduated from Colerain High School, is an avid photographer, news junkie and was once a roller rink disc jockey, and sometimes rides a scooter around town.

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