Chalk: Geologically speaking, its a form of limestone that is composed from a mineral, calcite carbonate, which ultimately comes from small particles shed from the shells of micro organisms called coccolithophores. Chalk has many uses such as an agricultural soil treatment, a toothpaste additive, an athletic grip enhancement and builder’s putty, but most of us were probably first exposed to chalk in the classroom. Chalk and chalk dust were once common sights and smells in classrooms across the globe. A mainstay of our early education and a cornerstone of our popular culture, chalk was used by Bart Simpson to write “I will not ____” across the detention room blackboard, on which other kids, in the hope of generating a spine shivering reaction from someone, would scrape their fingernails. But digital technology has changed the face of the modern blackboard, replacing it, along with the chalk used to write on it, with computer screens, IPads and digital pens. While chalk may have met its demise in the classrooms of developed countries, fortunately it continues to thrive as an artistic medium.
For 11 years, Denver has celebrated the artistic qualities of chalk and highlighted the work of those who have developed an unparalleled skill to create stunningly realistic images with it at the annual Denver Chalk Art Festival in Larimer Square. Yet another reason to love Denver! Downtown streets replace the blackboard, a rainbow of color options abound, and the arithmetic, grammar and homework assignments from our memories transform into artwork before our very eyes, lifelike enough to touch… just don’t unless you want to piss of a chalk dust clad artist who has worked feverishly under a tight deadline to create what you have just inadvertently trampled on.
Beginning Friday, more than 200 artists ranging from seasoned professionals to high school students, spend hours trying to finish their chalk masterpieces by the Sunday evening deadline, in the process converting the drab surface of Larimer street into a colorful palette of creative expression. The festival is produced by the Larimer Arts Association, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to promoting arts awareness and education… and keeping the usefulness of chalk firmly alive. At 6pm on Sunday evening, the judging begins and shortly thereafter, a street sweeper unceremoniously comes by and erases the blackboard in preparation for life to return to normal the following Monday morning. As an artist, it must be a bittersweet experience; to painstakingly rush to create a piece of art, toiling under a hot sun caked in chalk dust, only to have it washed away from existence hours later, yet afforded the opportunity to express themselves on one of the most public of mediums and to have their work viewed by thousands of people before its gone.
Chalk art competitions are growing in popularity around the world, but its nice to have one of the more prominent ones right in your own back yard. If the work on display in Denver is any indication, these festivals, and the use of chalk as in artistic expression, will only continue to grow.