Sarasota hosts first international chalk festival

Using the street as their canvas, local and international artists from near and far gathered for the first time on downtown Sarasota’s Pineapple Ave. to participate in the first ever international street-painting festival in the United States. On the weekend of Oct. 30 , roads were blocked off so the craftsmen could show off their skills in a fun and Halloween-themed chalk art contest. Creative artwork colored the streets and passersby often bumped into each other while unable to tear their gaze away from their feet.

Street painting is thought to have originated in Europe in the 16th century. Street artists became known as “Madonnari” for their recreations of paintings found in churches, primarily those of Madonna or St. Mary. The art has come a long way from garnering spare change from passing onlookers to renowned 3-D street artist Edgar Mueller who, according to, has earned upwards of a $100,000 for a single installment.

All up and down the road, fun and creepy artwork adorned the streets in a veritable outdoor museum. A “Little Chalkers” area was set up for the young and “the young at heart” where anyone interested could create their own artwork on a 2-foot by 2-foot square of pavement. As one progressed, the artwork became more and more impressive and even included examples of 3-D street art. Certain “viewing stations” were set up for festival-goers to observe the artwork through a glass at the appropriate angle, giving the uncanny illusion of depth. The competition was fierce as each artist attempted to outdo the next.

Not only was it her first time visiting the United States, but first-place winner Valentina Sforzini won a $2,500 prize for an eerie but beautifully made chalk art piece.

“My piece is my self-portrait,” said Sforzini. “It’s not that a self-portrait is Halloween-themed but it represents me with a Venice mask. It’s like the moment in which one is taking his mask off and showing [his] real [self].” Sforzini traveled all the way from Italy to attend the festival.

Second-place winner Jay Shwartz from California snagged a $1,000 cash prize for his street art. “My piece was called ‘Bona Lisa’ which was Mona Lisa as she probably looks today — 400 years old,” said Shwartz amidst cheers and laughter as he accepted his award.

Although there were only three top winners with prizes, the judges gave a plethora of awards to all who participated with superlatives like: “Best Use of Pumpkin Blood,” “Best Use of a Yummy Baby” and “Most Unsettling.”

Event Chair Denise Kowal gave an ending speech on Halloween praising the success of the festival and all the help that went into it. “Nobody is paid, everybody is 100% volunteer,” she said. She also revealed they would be writing a book in the near future about the festival and street-art. She happily thanked the amount of media covering the event, in particular a documentary team that came all the way from the Netherlands. The team had come to record the festival for a film investigating world-wide street painting.

Some New College students attended the event and shared their thoughts with the Catalyst on the monumental first-ever international street art festival.

“I happened to be downtown with my sister and her fiancé,” said first-year David Smith. “We hopped over and took a look at it … I was surprised by how big this thing was in Sarasota. There were a lot of really good chalk paintings …there were a lot of artists that came out.”

Although the festival only ran during Halloween weekend, the city kept the roads closed on Monday, Nov.1, to allow one more day for people to observe the transient creations.

Second-place winner Shwartz summed up the chalk art experience: “The biggest allure of the medium is that it is a pure art form – a mix of Fine Art and Performance Art. The paintings are ephemeral – vulnerable to the elements – and only viewing them in context can provide a lasting impression.”

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