The Hudson Valley Chalk Festival returns to New Paltz on Friday, July 22 for a three-day run through Sunday, July 24. Twenty-two professional street chalk artists from around the country will work alongside local talent to create eye-catching pastel works on the pavement of the upper parking lot at Water Street Market on Main Street. The event will start at 9 a.m. each day and finish at sundown. Admission is free.
The first Hudson Valley Chalk Festival was held at the market in 2012, followed by events in 2013 and 2014. The festivals were well attended — with 4,000 visitors the first year growing to 8,000 by the third — and it seemed like the events were destined to become a permanent part of a New Paltz summer. But festivals of any type take a great deal of planning and a lot of volunteer hours to put together, and there just wasn’t the availability necessary last year to pull it off in time. Organizer Amanda Lipstein says they now plan to make the Chalk Festival a biennial experience, with the next event after this one planned for July of 2018.
Kids attending the festival can enjoy a beanbag toss game and free face painting. There will be raffles for the adults. Live music will be provided from noon until at least 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and the shops and eateries in Water Street Market will be open. Some of the merchants put out special sidewalk sale racks. Official Hudson Valley Chalk Festival t-shirts (designed by participating artist Michael Las Casas this year) will be for sale to raise money to support the event. Spectators who feel inspired to try their own hand at drawing on pavement can play with the chalk provided in the open chalking area, where one-by-one-foot squares will be individually marked off, and the original “chalk car” will be back; a 2004 Hyundai painted with chalkboard paint and ready for embellishment by anyone so inclined.
The festival begins on Friday with the artists preparing their assigned spot in the parking lot. While it’s possible to work directly on the pavement, most of the chalk artists prefer to work on an undercoating of black tempera paint, which makes for a better working surface and the colors appear richer. A grid of squares drawn onto the space with light-colored chalk generally comes next, to aid in scaling a small reference work to a larger size. A few of the artists wing it and work without a grid.
Each artist develops their chosen image over the course of the three days, with most of the works basically completed by midday on Sunday. A number of visitors enjoy returning to the event multiple times over the weekend in order to follow the progress of a work from start to finish.
Some of the artists reproduce masterpieces of art or depict famous celebrities or personal passions. Others go for an effect using “anamorphic perspective,” in which the pastel work appears slightly distorted to the naked eye but when photographed will look startlingly dimensional in the resulting photograph, as if the image is coming out of the ground, breaking the visual boundaries of the pavement. The effect happens through an interaction of the camera lens with the degree of distortion in the artwork.
Chalk painting on the street can be traced back to 16th-century Italy, where artists would demonstrate their talents to passersby to earn a few coins. The tradition was revived in this country on the festival circuit in the 1970s, and there’s been a growing cadre ever since of professional street artists who travel the country to participate in events. None of them are paid for their time.
“It’s so beautiful! Too bad it’s only temporary,” is a comment often heard at chalk festivals. But the ephemeral qualities of the art form are part of the attraction for its makers, who enjoy the “here today, gone tomorrow” aspects of pavement painting. At the 2014 Hudson Valley festival, artist Jeanie Burns told New Paltz Times that as a graphic designer by profession, she enjoys doing chalk art on the street for her own pleasure. “There’s no client to please,” she said. Other street artists have compared the process to performance art or simply enjoy the interaction with viewers as they work.
Burns will return next weekend along with previous participants David Lepore, Jay Schwartz, Janet Tombros, Julio Jimenez, Michael Las Casas, Lysa Ashley, Cheryl and Wayne Renshaw, Joel Yau, Graham Curtis, Ann Hefferman, Sharyn Namnath, Hector Diaz and Ken Mullen (known as “the chalk guys”), Shane Mesmer and Lorelle Miller. Artists Ever Galvez, Craig Thomas, Jennifer Chaparro and Erik Greenawalt will be in the Hudson Valley festival for the first time.
They’ll be joined by 17 local artists, some veterans of the experience and others trying it out for the first time. Returning for another go will be the father-daughter team of Roxanne and Greg Correll, Rosalind Banks, Marie Saladino, Carmen Doyon, Rebecca Hanson, Ryan Cronin, Amelia Craig and Sara Wenger, who became so inspired by the process of street painting since her first try at it in New Paltz in 2013 that she has now taken up traveling to other chalk festivals while working on a master’s degree in art education. New participants will be Amanda Silvagnoli, James Dundon, Dawn Davis, Alycia Barbieri, Todd Moshier, the team of Jennifer Copertino and Diana Valentin and ten-year-old Juneau Beauport.
Each of the amateur artists is paired with a professional to help mentor them in the techniques required. Lipstein said they’d like to have an equal number of professionals and locals participating in future events, so in part to encourage amateurs to apply for the 2018 festival, there will be two brief, free workshops held on Thursday, July 21, one at 10 a.m. and the other at 6 p.m. Artist Michael Las Casas will conduct the sessions, which are open to the public and will be attended by some of the other professional street artists. “Michael will go over everything, answer questions and explain how it’s done,” says Lipstein. “We hope that local artists who might want to try the medium can learn what it’s like to do something so big, so public, and it’ll get them thinking about participating next time. And they can try out the new techniques they learn.” Those interested in attending should plan on meeting in the courtyard of Water Street Market, where the group will assemble before heading up to the upper parking lot.
Amateur artists who wish to participate in the festival don’t have to prove their talent, Lipstein adds, but rather are chosen on the basis of why they want to be in the festival and what they think they can bring to it. “We want people eager to learn new things and get out there and interact with the community, as well.”
Live music for the festival will be provided by Roadhouse Roosters, Humble Boy Club, Alex DiCicco, John Reddan, Henry Street Hot Club, Rich N’ Creamy, The Miles Brothers, G. Rockwell and the Still River Ramblers, Liv Waters, James Hearne, Mister Roper, Caprice Rouge, Paul Green School of Rock, Vito Petroccitto Jr., Paper Wings and Thomas Earl.
The Hudson Valley Chalk Festival also partners with Arrive in Kenya, a grassroots nonprofit that helps children in Kenya gain access to education, building schools and then training the local community to take them over. Six of the professional street painters at this year’s event — Lysa Ashley, Janet Tombros, Graham Curtis, “the chalk guys” Hector Diaz and Ken Mullen and Lorelle Miller — will be chalking images of the children to raise awareness for the charity. Any donations and proceeds above and beyond the cost of putting on the festival will be donated to the Kenyan group.
In the event of rain, check the event Facebook page for updates. If it’s light rain, the artists will cover their work with cardboard and tarps until showers pass, but if rain is heavy, the festival may move to indoor quarters or become a two-day festival. More information is available at “2016 Hudson Valley Chalk Festival” on Facebook.com or visit www.hudsonvalleychalkfestival.com.