Chalk street art may be transitory, but it would appear that the kaleidoscopically creative Key West Chalk Festival is here to stay. Set for Wednesday to Sunday, Nov. 19-23, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. along the Truman Waterfront promenade, the Festival that kicked off in 2012 with an all-Florida artist line-up has now grown to include prominent street artists of international renown.

Presented by the Key West Art in Public Places Board, the Key West Chalk Festival is a performance art event, free and open to the public, where artists use chalk as their medium and the pavement surface as their canvas. Individual sections of Truman Waterfront promenade, adjacent to the United States Coast Guard Cutter Ingham (USCGC Ingham) are blocked off and assigned to participants, who work both individually and in teams.

Most of the 3-D artists, whose elaborate creations take longer to execute, will begin rendering their works on Wednesday, Nov. 19, with more joining in Thursday through Saturday. Artworks will be completed by Saturday afternoon in time for 3 p.m. judging in both Adult and Young Artist categories, followed by a 4 p.m. awards ceremony. Saturday’s events will also include a festive Artisans Sidewalk Celebration from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. featuring arts and crafts booths and entertainment. Public viewing will continue through Sunday.

Chalk artists registered to date embody a diversity of expertise, from young students to world-renowned talents and include Matthew May from Holland, Tony Cuboliquido from Italy, Philippenzo Madonnaro from Russia, Ketty Grossi from Italy, Michael Las Casas from Ft. Lauderdale, Sarasota based artists Stig Lindow and Truman Adams, Joan Finn from St. Louis, and Key West based artists Sean P. Callahan, Billy Cartledge, Dea Celani, Carrie Disrud, Gail Drecher, Alexandra Durso, Denise Graham, Jack Hackett, Garth Holtkamp, Alisa Mealor, Mac McCausland, Lucy Paige, Suzanne Pereira, Jane Rohrschneider, Ronda Rinald, Madek Uthurunku, Amber Walsh,  Peter Wieting, Rick Worth, a children’s group from Key West Montessori Charter School and students from the Key West High School arts program.

You can chalk up inspiration for the chalk art genre to the Madonna. It was her revered image that inspired 16th century Italians to render what are believed to be the first street artworks in chalk and pastel. It became tradition for itinerant chalk artists, known as Madonnari, to travel from town to town, transforming dirty streets into religious artworks and earning coins from passersby for their labors.

The art form continued for centuries, until World War II impeded the practice of street art and the Madonnari’s heritage waned. Today, it has been revived and is celebrated at events and festivals throughout the world. French pastels have replaced the previously used simple chalks just as themes ranging from classical to surreal have replaced past adherence to biblical ones.

Renowned Key West based artist Rick Worth, commenting on chalk art’s transient nature and his experience as an annually returning artist said, “Working with some of the pro 3-D street artists from up North has been a great experience and education. And then there is the ephemeral quality of chalk art. You go in knowing that it is a temporary application, so there is this beauty for a while, accessible to everyone, but we know it is going to disappear.”

A significant slice of credit for the Festival’s rapid growth in its third year can be chalked up to Denise Kowal, founder and chair of the wildly successful Sarasota Chalk Festival, to whom the Key West Art in Public Places Board reached out in recognition of her experience and expertise.  “I have been blessed to work with many communities who have seen the value of bringing diverse groups of people together around the pavement arts cultural festivities,” commented Kowal, who added that chalk festivals attract tourism to support area businesses while creating a sense of place and belonging for area residents.


In an companion event, on Thursday, Nov. 20, Chalk Festival artists and spectators are invited to step aboard the USCGC Ingham from 5:30-7:30 pm and enjoy a special sunset happy hour with live music, hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. A $20 donation will benefit VNA/Hospice and the USCGC Ingham Museum.

The AIPP board of directors is appointed by the City Commissioners and the Mayor to serve the community in cultivating and developing a dynamic public arts presence throughout the island, recognizing the arts are an integral part of the living environment in Key West.

Sponsored in part by the Florida Keys Council of the Arts and The Key West Art & Historical Society, the Key West Chalk Festival is a family-friendly, pet-friendly event. Ongoing information and updates are available on the Key West Chalk Festival Facebook page. Chalks are provided free to pre-registered artists: to download an artist registration form visit Artists of all mediums interested in participating in Saturday’s Artisan Sidewalk Celebration may email [email protected]. Businesses seeking a creative means to support the festival may contact [email protected] to reserve a Business Chalk Card space ($25 donation). For more information contact Michael Shields at 305-394-3804.

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