ChalkFest 2015 is nearly upon us. From 1 to 8 p.m. Aug. 6, about 6,000 to 8,000 people—including kids, teenagers, grandparents, couples, families, friends, able-bodied and handicapped people, new Americans and more—will descend upon the Red River Zoo to enjoy a free day of drawing, animals, food, live music and fun.
But so what? It’s just chalk. Anybody can go outside and draw on a little bit of sidewalk with a little bucket of chalk, so who cares?
I care. And you should, too.
Because too often art-making events have a perceived gate around them—either pricing or location or perceptions of elitism.
Too often, we expect that people will flock to the inside of an art space and feel comfortable because we are. We don’t anticipate that they may not be able to afford to bring an entire family to a ticketed arts event. We underestimate how intimidating it can for someone who has not attended a formal concert or gallery opening to know what to wear.
These might seem inconsequential to the average reader, but if you are reading this column, then it’s likely you are already an arts supporter of one kind or another. ChalkFest was created to extend the invitation to you AND to those who might not otherwise encounter art.
Imagine the child who is creative but who rarely has the opportunity to draw in such a large scale as a 4-foot sidewalk square. For that child, this day provides a platform that showcases her or his talents in a fabulously supportive and communal way.
Think about the person who has never been able to kneel down on the ground, for whatever reason, to draw with chalk. For that person, this day provides upright chalk drawing opportunities that are inclusive with everyone else in a fabulously supportive and communal way.
Put yourself in the shoes of the stay-at-home mother or father, the grandparent who takes care of grandchildren, the in-home day care worker who rarely has the opportunity to engage with other at-home people and their little charges, and definitely almost never for free. This day provides a much-needed boost to what can start to feel like a long summer by August in a fabulously supportive and communal way.
Be the small group of 12-year olds who are too young to have jobs, too old to be in day care and tired of so little structure to their days. This day provides a creative outdoor encounter with art, animals, music, nature and more in a fabulously supportive and communal way.
Envision caring for an elderly parent. This day provides a stimulating, fun, handicap-accessible and safe environment in a fabulously supportive and communal way.
Be the harried parents who rush home from work to pick kids up from day care and think about supper. This day provides a fun change to the weekday schedule and allows you to spend quality family time together in a fabulously supportive and communal way.
Pretend you don’t speak the language of the community in which you find yourself living. This day provides a language-free space where creativity is universal for new Americans, refugees and international and exchange students who are shy to speak their newly learned English in a fabulously supportive and communal way.
Do you see where I am going here?
To the person who values only the finest of art beautifully framed and preserved in an air-controlled space, ChalkFest might not seem like much. But to those who are without access, to those who are challenged for myriad reasons, to those who have never had a positive encounter with the arts, ChalkFest is a welcoming environment where they are invited, accepted, encouraged, supported and celebrated for creating art.
If you think ChalkFest has little value for you, let me personally invite you to come and see what a day like this looks like in our community. See the continuous smiles, watch the wonder move over faces as they look from square to square to square of community-created art, look into the eyes of an accomplished artist upon the completion of her or his drawing, and then tell me there’s no value.
If it rains the morning after ChalkFest, all the physical signs of the day of art-making will be gone, but I promise you, it will linger long in the hearts and minds of those 6,000 to 8,000 people.
And that’s why I care about this chalk-making event. I hope to see you there.
If you go
What: ChalkFest 2015
When: 1 to 8 p.m. Aug. 6
Where: The Red River Zoo, 4255 23rd Ave. S., Fargo
Info: Admission to the zoo is free during this event
Dayna Del Val, executive director of The Arts Partnership, writes a monthly column for Variety. For more information on the arts, go to theartspartnership.net.
This article is part of a content partnership with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and originally appeared in the Monday, July 27, 2015, issue of the paper.